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    Michigan gains higher speed rail service


    February 14th, 2012 - Drew Dowdell - CheersandGears.com

    Michiganers will soon be able to get around a little faster without risking a speeding ticket. The US Department of Transportation has approved Amtrak to run 80 miles of the 97 mile section between Kalamazoo, MI and Porter, IN at 110mph, the first such service outside of Amtrak's North East Corridor. This move comes after the successful implementation of Incremental Train Control System (ITCS) along this section of the route. The two routes that use this section of line are Amtrak's thrice round trip daily Wolverine service, service Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Pontiac to the east and Chicago to the west, and the Amtrak Blue Water train with daily service east to Lansing and Port Huron and west to Chicago.

    Amtrak began upgrading this line above the Federal speed limit of 79mph in 2001 to 90mph with an additional limit increase to 95mph in 2005. The new 110mph service will take 10 minutes off the current schedule and is an improvement of 20 minutes over the 79mph schedule.

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    Amtrak President Joseph Boardman pointed out that this is just the first of two 110mph spokes from Chicago, the other being a planned line from Chicago to St. Louis. Further development of the Michigan line will include 110mph service from Kalamazoo to Dearborn

    Amtrak ended its fiscal year 2011 in October with a record 30.18 million riders. The Blue Water and Wolverine ridership ended the fiscal year up 18.6% and 4.4% respectively. Revenues for the trains were up 22.3% and 11%.

    Updated schedules are to be announced at a later date.

    Source: Amtrak Media Relations

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    When the ITCS is extended to Dearborn, that could end up cutting nearly an hour off the Detroit - Chicago run. That puts the run at about 4:35 minutes at a base price of $32.

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    We are next door to the Lancaster Amtrak station, which had visibly fallen into a bit of disrepair over the decades. A multi-million dollar project was funded by local money to upgrade the building and the grounds, which went millions over budget. Then it was discovered that NOTHING was done to improve or update the interior of the building.

    People around here are wondering why Amtrak hasn't contributed to the cost of this botched project that will cost untold sums MORE of local taxpayers' moolah to do something with the tattered interior. Heads need to roll, shirley.

    High speed trains are helpful though. I hope the stations up there in MI are safe and somewhat modern.

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    As far as I have ever heard Amtrak is not making any money. It may be they are just losing less.

    We were offered the so call high speed rail here in Ohio. The fact was it was not really what anyone here could call high speed. It was limited to 79 MPH and would have to make a few stops from Cleveland to Cinci.

    The deal was for so much money from the Fed and then the state was going to have to kick in more money than they had.. The other issue was it was not only going to take longer than a car drive down 71 but it would leave you in any of the 3 major cities with no car and little way to get to any of the suburbs.

    Rail works well in the large metro areas on the coast where you have good transportation once you leave the station. But in areas here in the mid west we have few good options here once you get off the train. Even Cabs are not a common sight anymore.

    If we had something here in Ohio that was at least 120 MPH people may consider it but for the most few will give up their car for a longer trip even if they saved a few bucks on the long trip.

    I am not anti rail I am just anti expensive rail that really would go unused. I love the Bart in San Fran and the Coast Rail in Cali as long as the engineer is not texting. In the right places it would really do well.

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    Most of the corridor services are getting mighty close to break even. It's the overnight trains with sleeping car service and a full diner where they bleed money.

    As more high(er) speed rail comes on line, critical mass of passengers becomes a reality. Amtrak already is facing a new problem they haven't before: Shortages of equipment. Not because they've lost or retired anything, but because traffic keeps going up at double digit rates. One of the services Amtrak introduced last year was a train from Lynchburg Virginia to Washington DC. The money was originally floated by Virginia DOT who expected they would be kicking in some money every year to keep the train running. At the end of it's second year, Amtrak is actually returning some profits back to VaDOT. As the Michigan service continues its speed upgrades, I would expect it to approach break even as well. As I noted above, the Wolverine is already bringing in 18.7 million a year which is equal to what the substantially more expensive to operate Capital Limited (Chicago - DC, "my train") brings in.

    OCN, I'm not sure where the scandal is. I'm reading a press release from Jan 19th that says the first stage of the Lancaster station restoration will be completed in a few weeks and that the first stage involved some emergency work to secure the structure of the building. The second phase is to start this spring and will include major work that doesn't get fully completed till 2015. Then there is a third phase....

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    As far as I have ever heard Amtrak is not making any money. It may be they are just losing less.

    We were offered the so call high speed rail here in Ohio. The fact was it was not really what anyone here could call high speed. It was limited to 79 MPH and would have to make a few stops from Cleveland to Cinci.

    The deal was for so much money from the Fed and then the state was going to have to kick in more money than they had.. The other issue was it was not only going to take longer than a car drive down 71 but it would leave you in any of the 3 major cities with no car and little way to get to any of the suburbs.

    Rail works well in the large metro areas on the coast where you have good transportation once you leave the station. But in areas here in the mid west we have few good options here once you get off the train. Even Cabs are not a common sight anymore.

    If we had something here in Ohio that was at least 120 MPH people may consider it but for the most few will give up their car for a longer trip even if they saved a few bucks on the long trip.

    I am not anti rail I am just anti expensive rail that really would go unused. I love the Bart in San Fran and the Coast Rail in Cali as long as the engineer is not texting. In the right places it would really do well.

    Well, that isn't entirely true. The Ohio service would be 110 service just like this Michigan release and it is still on the list of projects to complete. They want to get that done because it would also speed up two of the long distance trains.

    I don't understand this "you're left without a car" thing. Call Enterprise, they pick you up, and they have an agreement with Amtrak so if they know you're coming by train, they will bring the car to you if the train is early or late.

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    BTW, Amtrak will NEVER be profitable unless it no longer has to pay for the tracks or stations it uses. Highways aren't profitable either and neither is Air traffic control or the dam and lock system on the rivers and neither are the rural airports that we subsidize to keep in service. Every time you get in your car and drive on an interstate you get getting subsidized because the gas tax you pay only covers about 48% of the cost of keeping the interstates running.

    There is more money being spent on a 5 mile stretch of highway outside of Chicago than the entire Amtrak budget... not just Amtrak's subsidy... the entire yearly budget. For that same amount of money, Amtrak moved 30 million people last year.

    Amtrak is a bargain.

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    67impss... where does it say they're making money? just cause revenues are up doesn't mean they are out of the red.

    To be fair I didn't say they were making a profit I did say they're making money quite a bit of a difference.

    "Amtrak ended its fiscal year 2011 in October with a record 30.18 million riders. The Blue Water and Wolverine ridership ended the fiscal year up 18.6% and 4.4% respectively. Revenues for the trains were up 22.3% and 11%."

    I stand by my statement they're making money.

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    So what has to be done to a train/track/station in order to get a train to run faster on the track?

    To the trains, nothing. The P40/42 diesel is already certified up to 110mph. The corridor cars are certified up to 125mph. The Wolverine however sometimes uses the double deck coaches called SuperLiners. Those are only certified to 100mph... so I'm betting those will no longer be used on this route and will be deployed elsewhere.

    To the stations, nothing.

    The track work was continuously welded rail with concrete ties in certain sections, but that was completed in 2005. Some of the grade crossings were also moved/removed. To get to 110mph, the line required PTC or Positive Train Control. Basically a highly automated signaling system that can stop or slow down a train remotely without direct human intervention. The system has the ability to detect a train in the block ahead and inform the engineer. If the engineer doesn't make the adjustments in the time allotted, the computer does it for him (usually snapping the emergency brake).

    All passenger lines/trains will get the PTC system eventually and any line in the US that wants to do more than 95mph has to have it to get approval for those speeds.

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    For the record, highways are money losers as well. User fees (i.e., gasoline taxes) only cover 51% of highway expenditures. The rest come from general funds. Travel by automobile, especially in rural areas, is an extraordinarily subsidized form of transportation, but we've decided it's something we value enough to collectively pay for.

    http://subsidyscope.org/transportation/direct-expenditures/highways/funding/analysis/

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    As far as I have ever heard Amtrak is not making any money. It may be they are just losing less.

    We were offered the so call high speed rail here in Ohio. The fact was it was not really what anyone here could call high speed. It was limited to 79 MPH and would have to make a few stops from Cleveland to Cinci.

    The deal was for so much money from the Fed and then the state was going to have to kick in more money than they had.. The other issue was it was not only going to take longer than a car drive down 71 but it would leave you in any of the 3 major cities with no car and little way to get to any of the suburbs.

    Rail works well in the large metro areas on the coast where you have good transportation once you leave the station. But in areas here in the mid west we have few good options here once you get off the train. Even Cabs are not a common sight anymore.

    If we had something here in Ohio that was at least 120 MPH people may consider it but for the most few will give up their car for a longer trip even if they saved a few bucks on the long trip.

    I am not anti rail I am just anti expensive rail that really would go unused. I love the Bart in San Fran and the Coast Rail in Cali as long as the engineer is not texting. In the right places it would really do well.

    Well, that isn't entirely true. The Ohio service would be 110 service just like this Michigan release and it is still on the list of projects to complete. They want to get that done because it would also speed up two of the long distance trains.

    I don't understand this "you're left without a car" thing. Call Enterprise, they pick you up, and they have an agreement with Amtrak so if they know you're coming by train, they will bring the car to you if the train is early or late.

    Not according to those who supported this last year. That was the joke in Ohio They claimes high speed at first and we all expexted 100-120 MPH and then the truth came out that because of rail traffice and conditions they would be limited to the 79 MPH.

    Rent a car for one day. There goes any savings you would see in this trip unless you drive a one ton pick up.

    The other issue is people here were raised to take their own cars. Mass rail transportation was removed with the help of GM in the 30's and then after WW II they started to abandon buses when they bought their own cars. With the growth of the Suburbs here there is no easy way to get around in most of our cities. It would take years and untold dollars to attract many of the people here to rail.

    Note we are not like Europe and most of us live in suburbs and work in other suburbs. Our lives do nor revolve around downtowns anylonger. Once people here got cars they moved out. Thy try to offer buses service here to the burbs but few have the time it takes to get from point A to point Be to transfer to C to transfer and then to D where they were going.

    Now if we had more people say traveling to Cleveland from Canton for work It might work but most people do not live that far from work here.

    Like I said in some areas like when I travel from Wallnut Creek to Down Town SF the Bart is great but in the small town Middle America the culture has changed enough that it would take years and billions to bring it back. Hell they have pulled up many of the rails due to the less trains we have even for freight here.Since much of the industry has closed in this area many of the tracks were pulled up and and trucks have replaced them.

    There just areas where this will work and others it will be a great money loser. It is time for the goverment to give the money to the places it works well and fo a better system and grow it out from there.

    If they wanted to do it right. First fix the east coast to a system that is on par with Europe and then make a rail line from NY to Chicago. Then worry about the connections from there. This was how they buil the oiginal rail system. Now here in Ohio a true high speed rail to NY or Chicago might see enough people to support it. But just going to Cleveland to Cinci Few will ride and it would just be another waste of funds and a failed attempt.

    Like I said I am not against a good rail system just the ones where it is not a great idea. Here the public reaction was enough to say how it was going to go over. We really don't need near empty trains to go with our near emply buses. This is an idea that just needs to be grown and expanded from where it does work. To do it patch work style just will keep people away here.

    People here are just independent and have gotten used to the freedom of getting where they are going on their terms and times. This is not something easy to break. Unless fuel cost get to the point they can not afford to travel that way they will continue to keep doing as is. Unless there is a great direct personal gain they will resist this. Few here are green enough to do it just for that reason.

    Most of us here are 4 generations or more removed from the trolley system that we had. Most kids today laugh or cringe at the idea. It is something that would have to have more appeal than it does not to attract more riders. Many here will ride a bike or walk before taking a bus.

    Edited by hyperv6
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    Amtrak is not commuter rail and these corridor services work in exactly the opposite direction you describe. The Lynchburg train is doing very well and actually returning a profit. So think about that for a second. The traffic on that train is not coming from a bunch of DCers who for some reason want to go to Lynchburg.

    Corridor service, i.e. the Wolverine, the Keystone (Harrisburg - Philly - NYC), Lincoln service (St. Louis - Chicago) isn't about connecting those end points, it's about connecting the points in between to those end points. Cleveland - Chicago is already pretty well served. Waterloo, Indiana - Chicago isn't. There are lots of flights from Detroit to Chicago. From Kalamazoo to Chicago, the selection diminishes substantially.

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    Time for states to realize, that they need to make the land available to giv long straight or gradual curves so that High Speed Rail will work coast to coast.

    Some areas will have to cut through parks, some areas will have to be bought from private owners, but if they focus on a long term plan to get this done sooner rather than later, you will end up with a better lower cost mass transit system.

    A perfect example is the Amtrak line from Everett to Seattle curves back and forth along the water front on prime expensive property. They could purchase and create a straighter faster path and sell off the prime water front track property and get a much better transit system in place.

    Trains are not much different in regards to our current road systems where we tend to not plan for a more efficient way to get from point a to b. Some times this does require changing or forcing change in the layou of a town, city, suburbs, etc.

    We have to realize that some change in the history of the area is needed for better growth over the long run.

    The larger gain for all should always be taken over the protection of a few things. History is for the books and not every building, land plot or route needs to be protected.

    Edited by dfelt
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    In the republican conservative center of California, it has become a bitter battle between land owners and farmers over the right-of-way for the high speed rail project. Farmers have taken an "over my dead body" approach to the situation rather than being flexible. HSR authority was being equally rigid, but have shown some signs of willingness to compromise.

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    why do you think rail will be any different than interstate planning?

    look at http://en.wikipedia....e_66_%28west%29 as an example..... planning takes *forever*

    Things could change and get done much faster if we just kick out all the current Politicians and clean house on the overbearing gov unions and then we could move forward with real change people could believe in.

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    I'm not sure any of the following has much bearing on the main topic(s) of conversation, but I just felt like sharing some of my experiences with Amtrak.

    Wife & I used Amtrak this past fall. We flew from Salt Lake to Chicago, visited family in Indiana & Ohio for a few days (bumming rides), then rode Amtrak from Cincinnati to Washington DC. We then hopped on the Metro, and rode to where our hotel was. If it hadn't been for a locomotive breakdown & medical emergency, it would have been a great option (which was cheaper than flying, fun/different, and fast enough to not be an issue). The delays made for some... adventure... but overall it was good, and I'd do it again anytime.

    We took Amtrak from Salt Lake to northwest Indiana a few years back. Unfortunately it was more difficult, as SLC is 2.5hrs from us, and the train leaves at something like 4am. There are busses that run from here (SE Idaho) to SLC regularly, but not at that time. We looked at driving down & parking at a long-term parking area, then catching local mass transit (bus, light rail, etc), but nothing is open or running at that time of night. On top of all that, the station is in a bad neighborhood, so you don't want to get there way early. The only way it worked out at all was by having a friend that didn't mind driving 5hrs round trip in the middle of the night to drop us off. That friend has since moved, so I'm not sure it could happen again.

    We checked pricing of the basic sleeper cars for the trips there & back, and found it was reasonable one way (especially considering it included meals in the dining car), but far more expensive & beyond justifiable for us in price coming back. So, we decided that was for the best anyway, as it let us experience both worlds. The sleeper was ok. The beds are, of course, not super awesome soft cozy things, but are rather hard, and the bottom one folds into two seats during the day. Not terribly comfortable as seats either. Still, you get privacy, and a place to lay down, and one power outlet if I remember right. The dining car meals were decent, probably comparable to an average to slightly below average diner. The route is gorgeous, and enjoying the views is one of the major pluses of taking the train. It's also nice to be able to just get up & wander around.

    The return trip in coach was a very different experience. The seats are actually more comfortable than the bed-folds-into-chairs setup, though still left a bit to be desired. I enjoyed the coach seating during the day, and found the only thing I was really longing for was power outlets (if & how many power outlets are available on Amtrak cars seems to be a mixed bag).

    Meals were a disappointment. The dining car is very expensive. You can eat cheaper from another food vendor in the observation car, but it's still expensive for what you get. If I remember right, they had cups of ramen noodles (generally .15-.25 at the grocery store) for $1.50. If you're comparing travel costs, don't forget meals, because depending on the details of the trip, the plane may not cost much more once you factor in meals, especially if you want to be at all choosey about what you eat. Fortunately, security is nothing like airports, and you can bring food with you.

    Sleeping in coach is the biggest thing that will make me think twice about taking the train long-distance again. The seats tilt back much further than in an airplane, and you have much, much more leg room, but it's far from laying flat. They provide you with a small pillow, which I ended up using under my butt, because all night long I would slide down, scoot myself up, slide down, scoot myself up, and soon my butt was very sore. This ruined the comfort during the day the next day as well. Bringing a nice big cooshy pillow would probably help substantially.

    --

    I support Amtrak, and am very glad they're making efforts to upgrade service & speeds. There will probably always be situations where scheduling & transportation to & from the stations makes it unfeasible for some travelers, but they can keep making it make sense for more & more people. Trains are hugely efficient (at least in a gallons per weight per mile measure), so I would imagine rail travel will continue to make sense in some way for a long, long time, and may even see growth as speeds & logistics improve.

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    Rail is great for some use cases, but living in Phoenix, flying + a rental car is the only realistic option for most trips I make.

    Normal speed rail is good for trips ~350 miles or less

    Higher speed rail is good for trips ~450 miles or less

    Higherer speed rail (fastest we have in this country) is good for trips ~500 miles or less

    Highest speed rail is good for trips 600 miles or less

    At those relative speeds, the time on the train is typically 4.5 hours or less, keeping it competitive time wise with air travel total time over the same distance (including the "how's your father?" with the TSA and getting out to the airport)

    Amtrak's Wolverine blasting through Michigan at 110mph in the snow on 2/11/2012

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    Again, I'm sure it's nice in areas that have rail access. Nothing available here.

    In a normal year, I have 1-2 trips from Phoenix to Columbus or Pittsburgh, 2-3 trips from Phoenix to Denver, 2-3 trips from Phoenix to San Diego, Orange County, or LA, and 1-2 trips to the SF Bay Area. Flying + rental car is the only realistic option for those...

    Edited by Cubical-aka-Moltar
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    Distance wise flying is the only real option for those period. The only cities I would put in range of Phoenix via HSR are Las Vegas and ABQ.

    East of the Mississippi river, the population densities are equal to Europe.

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    Distance wise flying is the only real option for those period. The only cities I would put in range of Phoenix via HSR are Las Vegas and ABQ.

    East of the Mississippi river, the population densities are equal to Europe.

    Yeah, so much of the inland West is vast and empty...

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