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MIPRC holds Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., to amplify Midwest's voice as FAST Act renewal begins
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MIPRC holds Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., to amplify Midwest's voice as FAST Act renewal begins

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission combined its annual meeting and visit to Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., this October to amplify the region’s voice as Congress begins discussing renewal of the law that sets federal policy and authorizes spending on surface transportation (the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation [FAST] Act of 2015, which expires in 2020).
 
MIPRC commissioners, partners and allies met over three days of meetings to go over the organization’s positions and “asks” for the FAST Act’s renewal, review regional developments since the 2018 Annual Meeting in Milwaukee, Wis., and hear from both Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration regarding their programs and plans for the new fiscal year. (A full agenda is here, links to presentations are below.)
 
And during a day-long visit to Capitol Hill, commissioners and partners met with 31 federal legislators and their staff from member states and hosted a briefing for transportation staffers of Midwestern Members of Congress and Congressional committees with oversight of passenger rail funding, presenting MIPRC’s requests on renewing the FAST Act, which include:
 
  • Keeping rail as a title within the reauthorization bill's language.
  • Sustained funding for intercity passenger rail.
  • Reauthorization of, and increased funding for, the FAST Act’s grant programs, and inclusion of authorization for the BUILD (formerly TIGER) grant program.
  • Keeping Amtrak’s national long-distance network intact while its future is studied by Amtrak and the states, while including MIPRC as a stakeholder.
  • Concurrence with many of the American Association of State Highway & Transportation’s Council on Rail Transportation positions on the FAST Act renewal.
The full list of MIPRC’s Federal Surface Transportation Reauthorization Positions can be found here.
 
Commissioners also elected a new officer slate for 2020, tapping Robert Guy (Illinois) as chair and David M. Simon (Wisconsin) as vice chair, and retaining Rep. Sharon Negele (Indiana) as financial officer.
 
Guy, the Illinois state director for SMART-Transportation Division, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s private sector appointment to the commission, replaces Beth McCluskey, associate vice president & director of business development, transit and rail, for AECOM.
 

Simon, director of Wisconsin DOT’s Bureau of Transit, Local Roads, Railroads & Harbors, and Gov. Tony Evers’ designee to MIPRC, replaces Tim Hoeffner, director of Michigan DOT’s Office of Rail.

 
Negele is the Indiana House-appointed commissioner.
 
Presentations during the meeting included:
 
Meeting attendees also heard from FRA Deputy Administrator Quintin Kendall and Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president/chief marketing and revenue officer, who spoke about the agency’s and railroad’s respective vision and priorities for 2020.
 
Kendall said the FRA is monitoring situations with long trains, including some reaching 2½- to 3 miles in length – “Our job is to step in if we see anything unsafe,” he added.
 
He said the agency is also working on the national PTC implementation deadline (just 14 months away), overhauling a grant program for grade crossing safety or closures (a proposed rule will be published soon in the Federal Register), and launching the U.S. Department of Transportation ’s new ROUTES, or “Rural Opportunities To Use Transportation for Economic Success,” initiative that will focus on rural transportation infrastructure needs.
 
Harris said Amtrak is working on developing more detailed customer metrics to create a more holistic view of commercial functions; this will let Amtrak develop ideas, identify and address weak spots in revenue stream, and anticipate and avoid service problems.
 
This is something new for Amtrak, and an area in which states can participate, he said.
 

The railroad is also trying to make logical decisions on dining services and has re-introduced dining on the Silver Meteor (New York City-Miami), he said. Amtrak will be updating and replacing old linens, too, as cars are overhauled, he added.

Amtrak prefers to develop more state-supported services before starting more high-speed services like Acela. “Reliability is more important than speed,” he said.
 

Many thanks to our MIPRC Partners who participated in the meeting and Day on the Hill, and to the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers for their sponsorship of MIPRC’s 2019 Annual Meeting.

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