Transit Briefs: Amtrak, Bi-State Development, Metra, Metrolinx, Sound Transit

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Federal funding requests have been submitted for planning the return of Amtrak service between Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, Ind.

Federal funding requests have been submitted for planning the return of Amtrak service between Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, Ind.

Will Amtrak service connecting Louisville, Indianapolis and Chicago return? Also, Bi-State Development advances the Jefferson Alignment MetroLink Expansion project in St. Louis, Mo.; Chicago’s Metra schedules Operation Lifesaver safety blitzes for 2023; Metrolinx installs traction power substations along Ontario’s future Hazel McCallion Line (formerly known as the Hurontario LRT project); and Seattle’s Sound Transit will receive millions in low-interest loans to support construction of the Hilltop Tacoma Link extension and a station along the Lynnwood Link extension.

The Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA) and Metro Government have submitted a $500,000 planning grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration to resume Amtrak intercity passenger rail service between Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, Ind., after a 20-year absence, The Courier Journal of Louisville reported March 28.

KIPDA Community Outreach Specialist Greg Burress told the newspaper that the group’s funding request is in addition to the Indiana Department of Transportation’s request for a similar service restoration plan between Indianapolis and Chicago, of which KIPDA is in “full support.” Burress told the paper that “officials hope to hear something this summer.”

According to Burgess, KIPDA’s planning grant received support letters from the offices of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear; Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg; Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett; U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey; Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray; Transit Authority of River City, Ky. (TARC); the town of Clarksville, Ind.; Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI); and others in Indiana, The Courier Journal reported.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the newspaper that the railroad is supporting similar efforts “across the country, in this case supporting both KIPDA and INDOT to develop reliable and relevant connection to and from Chicago.” He noted that “the chamber of commerce in Louisville [GLI] has been a key partner in bringing everyone together.”

Additionally, Kevin Trager, a spokesman for Mayor Greenburg, “said in a statement the mayor has spoken ‘directly with (Transportation) Secretary (Pete) Buttigieg about this and will be pursuing all available federal funding to make this route a reality.’

“‘As one of the largest cities in the country with no Amtrak service, Louisville would greatly benefit from new train service to Indianapolis and beyond,’ Trager said.”

Currently, to travel between the Louisville, Indianapolis and Chicago, riders can take Amtrak’s Thruway motorcoach bus service. The Kentucky Cardinal, which ran between Louisville and Chicago, was shuttered in 2003 due to “too few passengers” and the end of freight traffic on the route, according to the newspaper. The Louisville Amtrak station currently houses TARC, which runs buses in Louisville and southern Indiana.

The smaller Kentucky communities of Maysville, South Portsmouth and Ashland are served by Amtrak’s Cardinal line between Chicago and Washington, D.C., according to the newspaper, which noted that The City of New Orleans stops in Fulton, Ky., on its trip from Chicago to New Orleans, La.

(Bi-State Development Photograph)

The Bi-State Development Board of Commissioners on March 24 approved a resolution and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) authorizing the Bi-State Development team to work with the city of St. Louis to plan, design and develop the Jefferson Alignment MetroLink Expansion project (previously called the Northside-Southside MetroLink expansion). The agreement, valid through Dec. 31, 2024, allows Bi-State Development to select and fund the Program Management Consultant (PMC) phase of the project.

The Bi-State Development team will oversee and manage the Program Management phase of the St. Louis city expansion segment. Program Management includes preliminary planning, plus procuring and contracting a selected consultant, and providing all supervision and complete oversight. According to the Board, approximately $7.4 million in funding for Bi-State Development oversight and management services as well as outside consultant services will be paid through City MetroLink Capital Trust from the Missouri-allocated COVID-19 funds.

Responses to the program management consultant Request for Proposals are due April 17.

As part of preliminary planning, Bi-State Development is slated to submit an application this summer or next summer for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s New Starts program, which provides up to $4.6 billion per year to fund major capital transit projects like the proposed Jefferson Alignment MetroLink Expansion. Once an application is approved, New Starts fund recipients enter a project development phase, which gives them two years to complete project engineering and design. This is followed by project construction. The New Starts program provides federal funds for 60% of the project cost, with the remaining 40% supported by local funding. The cost to build the first phase of the Jefferson Alignment Expansion is estimated at $850 million.

(Metra Photograph)

Metra on March 28 reported that it will hold safety blitzes at 49 of its 242 train stations across its six-county region in 2023 as part of ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the importance of safe behavior around its trains and track.

“Illinois has the nation’s second-largest rail system with more than 7,300 miles of railroad track and 10,264 public rail crossings,” according to the commuter railroad. “In 2022, Illinois ranked third in the nation in train vs. vehicle collisions at highway/rail crossings and fifth in the nation in trespassing fatalities. Preliminary statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration show that in 2022, 25 people died and 45 people were injured in grade crossing incidents in Illinois and another 29 people were killed and 33 people were injured trespassing along railroad right-of-way.”

Metra explained that during a safety blitz, its employees visit a station during the morning rush hour to distribute educational materials about train and grade crossing safety; to answer questions; and to listen to riders’ safety concerns. A short video about grade crossing safety is also provided for riders to watch. Local police, fire and other public officials are invited to participate.

“Safety is always My Metra’s highest priority,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. “These safety blitzes allow us to reach our customers directly to ensure that they understand the need to stay vigilant about safety anytime they’re around the railroad.”

Separately, the Metra Police Department conducts enforcement blitzes at locations throughout the region, where citations and warnings are issued to pedestrians and drivers who ignore gates and warning devices, according to the commuter railroad.

(Metrolinx Rendering)

Metrolinx on March 28 provided a progress report on the 11-mile, 19-stop Hazel McCallion Line, which will run between Mississauga and Brampton. The light rail line, named for the former Mississauga mayor, will operate in its own dedicated lane (see map left) and connect with GO Transit (Milton and Lakeshore West lines), the Mississauga Transitway, Brampton Transit, ZUM and MiWay. Major construction began in spring 2020 and is expected to wrap up in fall 2024.

“From the LRV tracks to an updated elevated guideway over Highway 403, to a new underpass at the Queen Elizabeth Way—there’s a lot of exciting progress,” Metrolinx said. “One part of that progress is the installation of traction power substations [TPSS] along the line and at the project’s maintenance and storage facility.”

Each of 13 TPSS will be connected to utilities and convert alternating current into 750-volt direct current that will run through the overhead wires and power the line.

The first TPSS was installed March 8 on the west side of Hurontario Street and Skyway Drive. The next two TPSS are expected to be added by this summer at Hurontario Street and Britannia Road and Hurontario Street and Topflight Drive. Installation of remaining TPSS will happen gradually, “with the ‘burn in’ section of the track from the OMSF to Matheson being prioritized,” according to Metrolinx.

NE 130th St Infill Station Project Area, Sound Transit

Sound Transit on March 28 reported that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) will provide nearly $173 million in low-interest loans to support construction of the Hilltop Tacoma Link extension and the NE 130th Street Infill Station along the Lynnwood Link extension. The loans, it said, will save taxpayers at least $26 million over the next two decades.

Under USDOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, the 2.4-mile Hilltop Tacoma Link extension would receive a loan of up to $93.3 million to build guideway and track, purchase five light rail vehicles, expand the existing operations and maintenance facility on East 25th Street, and make pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements. The NE 130th Street Infill station project would receive up to $79.3 million in loan funds for station construction, bus and paratransit transfer facilities, and sidewalk and bicycle infrastructure.

Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension Map, Sound Transit

Scheduled to open later this year, the Hilltop Tacoma Link project more than doubles the length of Tacoma Link light rail, starting with a relocated Theater District station, and adding six new stations.

It is 99% complete, Project Director Madeleine Greathouse reported at a March 21 Tacoma City Council study session, according to The News Tribune. “Greathouse told the council the remaining work includes station finishes, such as installing handrails, erecting signage reminding drivers they are sharing the roadway with trains, and completing side-street pavement,” the newspaper reported March 28. “System-integration testing is ongoing to validate functionality, operation and performance, she said.”

The NE 130th Infill Station was approved by voters in 2016 as an addition to the 8.5-mile, four-station Lynnwood Link extension. The new station will serve a growing residential neighborhood between the Northgate and Shoreline South/148th stations. The NE 130th Street Infill Station is scheduled to open in 2026.

“These loans are an important federal investment in our shared commitment to build the regional transit network that will fuel future success,” Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

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