Lawmakers in Michigan are working with Amtrak officials to keep passenger service on two major rail lines from being discontinued. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:
Lawmakers in Michigan are working with Amtrak officials to keep passenger
service on two major rail lines from being discontinued. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:
(sound in – train)
Amtrak officials say they will have to end service on its Chicago to Grand
Rapids and Chicago to Toronto routes unless Michigan provides additional
The train system says it needs just over seven million dollars per year to
operate the two routes, but the state currently caps aid to Amtrak at
five point-seven million dollars.
State Representative Lauren Hagen has introduced a bill to increase
available funding. He says the routes are vital for residents throughout
“It’s a need for many people: for handicapped people, for senior
citizens, and people who want an alternative way to travel.”
Amtrak says about 150-thousand passengers traveled the routes last
year, but that’s still not enough riders to pay for the service through
Rail service in Missouri is also threatened because of reduced funding.
The Michigan legislature has found enough money to keep the service running
until mid-May, but additional funding may be hard to find with the state
facing a one-point-nine billion dollar budget deficit.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jerome Vaughn in Detroit.
Another link in higher-speed rail in the Great Lakes region is in place. Railroad officials have begun testing passenger trains at speeds never before attempted. It’s part of an effort to establish Chicago as a hub for cities from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Willis Kern reports:
Another link in higher-speed rail in the Great Lakes region is in place. Railroad officials
have begun testing passenger trains at speeds never before attempted. It’s part of an effort
to establish Chicago as a hub for cities from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Willis Kern reports:
(nat sound train going through station)
A four-car Amtrak passenger train is rolling through the depot in downtown Normal,
(sound of train continues)
Usually, passenger trains stop to pick up passengers. But this one is chugging through,
picking up nothing but speed as it heads north toward Chicago, and eventually, a new land
speed record for passenger trains in Illinois. Never before has a train eclipsed the 110-
mile per hour mark, but that’s what this one is about to do during a five-mile stretch, as
another step toward implementing high speed rail in the Midwest.
Before the train backs up from the Amtrak station in Normal and races forward, it sits
idling while engineers from the state bureau of railroads, Amtrak and Lockheed Martin test
new technology the train will use called Positive Train Control, which is a key component
of making the trains go faster. As it sits at the train station, Steve Gossard, the station’s
lead ticket agent, notes that the twin engines on this train look different than the ones
Amtrak usually push up and down the Chicago to St. Louis corridor.
“Well I guess its a little more streamlined, a more angular kind of thing, and its really
very plain. I guess the aerodynamics has something to do with the style.”
The ‘Bureau of Railroads’ is using two Amtrak engines that have been configured to
operate on what’s known as Class 6 tracks, or those that have been upgraded to support
speeds of 110 miles an hour.
“It’s a very sophisticated piece of equipment.”
Bureau chief John Schwalbach says the testing helps determine the difference between
traditional Class 4 tracks that have been upgraded and the new rails to be used for higher
“Particularly the track guage. That is to say the distance between each of the rails.
That’s a key component and at Class 6, there are certain standards that are tighter
than a class four track. And you’re talking about measuring in the millimeter range
here, or even smaller than that.”
Which makes for a smooth ride for the faster trains. Schwalbach says the engines being
tested today are quite different than the one the state has been testing at the more
conventional speed of 79 miles per hour over the past few months, but it will be a couple
of years, at least, before new high speed diesel train sets are ordered. They will efficiently
get passengers up to speeds of 110 miles an hour. A year ago, state rail officials were
pointing to a December ’02 launch of high speed passenger service. Now, Schwalbach
says that’s not likely to happen until sometime in 2004, mainly because of federal red tape.
“From a regulatory perspective, after Lockheed Martin delivers their finished
product, it of course has to meet or exceed regulatory requirements put upon them by
the Federal Railroad Administration. We expect that process will take us through the
“That may be accurate but it sounds like an awfully slow pace. I guess it assumes
little or no federal support.”
Ross Capon is the Executive Director of the National Association of Rail Passengers. He
talked to us on a cell phone as he rode an Amtrak passenger train from California to
Maryland. Capon says he’s disappointed in the Bush Administration’s attitude toward high-
speed rail. But, he’s confident things on the federal level will improve and states starving
for funding not only for high speed rail, but basic Amtrak service, will get much needed
“The general public is way ahead of the politicians on this issue. That 9-11 has only
reinforced that, and that sooner or later, the administration is going to figure that out
and respond to it.”
(sound of trains)
Meanwhile, the Great Lakes states wait for the federal government to sort out Amtrak and
high speed rail service and it’s commitment to each. Michigan has been testing a stretch of
track between Detroit and Chicago for sometime. Now it’s Illinois’ turn to showcase the
baby steps they’re making in an attempt to get some kind of service up and running as soon
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Willis Kern.