Two Grants Aim to Improve Amtrak Midwest Network

Written by Andrew Corselli
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A pair of State Departments of Transportation received federal grants to improve service along the Amtrak Midwest network.

First, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) a $25.7 million Federal-State Partnership for a State of Good Repair grant (SOGR Program) to acquire new passenger rail cars for use on the Amtrak Hiawatha service. WisDOT will purchase three cab-coach cars and six coach cars with the grant, replacing equipment that is “nearing the end of its useful life and costly to maintain.”

WisDOT plans to add the equipment to the Midwest Rail equipment pool; a fleet of equipment already being manufactured for use on eight Amtrak Midwest routes. Adding these additional cars to that pool will “ensure that the Hiawatha Service will be fully equipped with state-of-the-art equipment from this fleet.”

The new passenger cars aim to expand the train’s seating capacity. The Amtrak Hiawatha is the busiest train in the Midwest and ninth busiest in the nation, serving almost 860,000 passengers in 2018. Ridership has grown by 6% in the first six months of 2019. In addition to expanding capacity, the new cars hope to reduce fuel consumption, reduce overhaul costs, increase equipment reliability and improve accessibility for passengers with disabilities.

“This is great news for our passengers,” said Craig Thompson, WisDOT Secretary-designee. “The public will get their first glimpse of the new cars beginning late 2020.”

“This rail equipment supports planned increases in service frequency in the fast-growing Milwaukee-Chicago corridor and would substantially improve intercity passenger rail service,” said Amtrak Senior Director Ray Lang. “This advances the Amtrak goal of expanding and improving corridor services and setting more ridership records.”

In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced a federal SOGR Program grant award for more than $23 million to the Michigan DOT (MDOT).

The federal grant will be used by MDOT to improve rail, crossties and track surfaces between Battle Creek and Dearborn on the Michigan-owned segment of the Chicago-to-Detroit/Pontiac corridor. These improvements include replacing approximately 80,000 railroad ties east of Battle Creek and 15 track-miles of rail east of Jackson. The project aims to improve rail safety and increased passenger train speeds for the Amtrak Midwest Wolverine Service, which carries nearly 500,000 annual passengers.

Two deteriorating railroad bridges in Jackson over Jackson and Mechanic streets also will be replaced with new spans. The current structures rely on temporary shoring and have sub-standard vertical clearances, resulting in frequent bridge strikes by motor vehicles. The new spans will help reduce bridge strikes and expand non-motorized paths under the structures to improve pedestrian safety.

“This funding is critical to improve safety, enhance existing services and further reduce travel times,” said Tim Hoeffner, director of the MDOT Office of Rail. “Improvements to this rail line will lead to increased passenger train speeds of up to 110 mph in certain places along this important corridor.”

“This grant will improve Amtrak Wolverine Service reliability and help us to continue to grow revenue and ridership on this important Amtrak Midwest corridor,” said Ray Lang, Amtrak Senior Director, State and Local Affairs. “Michigan is respected nationally as a leader in passenger rail and MDOT is one of our best Amtrak partners in both operations and infrastructure.”

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