Today’s Headlines

  • Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line Station Opens (Tribune)
  • Rauner Puts the Brakes on Plan to Resume Amtrak Service to Rockford (Tribune)
  • 30 Pedestrian Fatalities in 2014, Up From 27 in 2013; 7 So Far This Year (RedEye)
  • SUV Driver Fatally Strikes Vasilios Rodogiannis, 60, in Posen, No Charges (Tribune)
  • Hearing in the Bobby Cann Case Tomorrow at 10 a.m. (The Chainlink)
  • As Wednesday’s Fatality Shows, Calling 311 to Report Problems Can Save Lives (Active Trans)
  • 2 People, Including Off-Duty Cop, Injured After Driver Blows a Red at Canal/Archer (Tribune)
  • Series of Robberies at Chicago Lawn Bus Stops (Sun-Times)
  • Fill Out NIRPC’s Survey to Ask For Bike Access on South Shore Line Trains
  • “Dibs” Thug Cut the Brake Lines of Woman After She Parked in Reserved Spot (DNA)
  • A Poster and a Poem in Honor of “Dibs” (DNA, Tribune)

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  • Fred
  • Kevin M

    Re: Rauner derailing Amtrak expansions to Rockford and Quad Cities

    This was one of my concerns before the election. Just like every other GOP governor since 2010, Rauner is following suit with stopping growth of passenger rail service.

    My only hope is that the Legislature forces these projects to move ahead. I don’t understand how the Governor can permanently stop something that was already approved by prior state legislation. It wasn’t as if Quinn was acting unilaterally when these projects kicked off.

  • I really think supporting rail in this country shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing thing.

    St. Louis (2.8 million) to Chicago, fine. Quad Cities (0.4 million) to Rockford (0.35 million) to Chicago, no. Especially when the Quad Cities are all of 175 miles and 3 hours away.

    Sometimes buses are just better for moving people.

  • Fred

    I’m not sure its fair to categorize him as anti-rail *yet*. He put a temporary stop to a whole slew of projects that Quinn started, so I don’t think he is directly targeting rail at this point.

    If he goes on to permanently cancel the project, then yes, your assessment will be accurate. I’m just not ready to concede defeat based on this one action. Hopefully the project will pass his “review” and continue as planned. I’m waiting to reserve judgement until the “review” is finished.

  • Fred

    The problem is buses have a perception problem. They are seen as lower class than trains which are seen as lower class than airplanes. Grayhound and Megabus aren’t exactly known for their affluent clientele. Speaking personally, I would never consider taking an intercity bus in its current form, but would consider intercity rail. As long as bus service is the cheapest possible option you are going to attract riders for whom money is the most important thing. No one is choosing to Megabus to St Louis instead of flying or train because its the “better” way to travel. The only way for bus service to be a real alternative to rail is if it is a premium/luxury service that is able to overcome current public perception issues.

  • I think buses had a perception problem. I’m less sure they have one now, with bus companies providing (probably low-quality) wifi and power outlets. That’s still more than I get daily on Metra.

    By my eye Illinois’ 3 Amtrak lines lost a cumulative $48 million in 2013 ( ), and the state kicked in $38 million ( ). Chip in the Chicago-Milwaukee route and it makes for a cumulative loss of $60 million(!?!)

    Adding Chicago-Moline and Chicago-Dubuque would only widen the gap and money needed for much fewer passengers, and I think there are other places to spend cash.

  • However, if a private investor is willing to get on board like the Texas Central between Dallas and Houston, I’d say full steam ahead!

    A private investor would probably lose their shirt between Chicago and Dubuque though. Probably even between Chicago and Des Moines!

  • I share the worry that this may be a sign of Gov. Rauner’s unwillingness to fund transit. However, this project by itself is not without flaw.

    Amtrak’s own numbers pin the project at as low as 20k riders at Rockford and a high of only 76k if it went all the way to Dubuque. This comes in at a third of the current lowest ridership route in the state; Illinois Zephyr & Carl Sandburg at 228k riders in 2013. I understand that some routes take time to grow but the one document I did find didn’t instill confidence, 28k by 2034. Also nailing down the capital costs is important, Amtrak’s study says it can be as low as $26.2mill while another put it as high was $257 million. Naturaly all of the studies that looked at revenue/operations had the revenue much lower than operation cost, about $3 million per year funding gap.

    Going back to the Freeport Benefit/Cost analysis I get their point about external benefits and I applaud them for crafting the document. But conveying that info to the general public/politicians is a big job and it may not be worth the human capital.

    Worst case we could just go with IDOT’s plan to run commuter BRT in the middle of I-90.

  • Kevin M

    Robert, How much did Illinois highways and roads–or the airport–“lose” in 2013? Lets play fair when we talk about public financing of transportation modes. Passenger train service is a /service/, not a for-profit business. That being said, we can reduce operating loses by improving service (hint: this takes investment up front). We see in the Acela that when serious intercity passenger rail service is made available to Americans, they support it to the point that it more than covers its own operating costs.

    Fred’s response that buses have an image problem is correct, and I am someone who will take the bus (though I know many who will not). Buses have other problems/disadvantages that will always hold them back. Two more: they share the roads with car congestion and they offer their passengers much less space.

  • Anne A

    Buses are not better for moving those who have motion sickness problems or other health-related issues with buses. I would NEVER ride a bus to Rockford or the Quad Cities. If there was Amtrak service that could get me to Rockford or Galena, I would absolutely use it, and I would visit those destinations more often and spend money there.

  • I should have been a bit more clear; I think the service we get from spending money on *well-used* roads is more for the money than we get from Amtrak.

    Roads are wonderfully decentralized. This is a big problem if you built too many of them where there aren’t enough people, but it also means buses can adjust routes and frequency to where the demand is.

    Trains can’t adjust routes. Not sure about the frequency, though I’d be surprised if schedules change more frequently than once a year.

    Acela is not really a good comparison, because although Wikipedia is trying to tell me there are 60 million people in the Chicago megalopolis and 60 million in the Northeast, that’s because they’re mostly in a straight line in the Northeast whereas here you have to count Des Moines, Minneapolis, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Saint Louis to get to that number.

    What’s worse, Amtrak runs into the same levels of congestion as highways, except in the form of freight trains.

  • cjlane

    “We see in the Acela that when serious intercity passenger rail service is made available to Americans, they support it to the point that it more than covers its own operating costs.”

    Ok, and when there is a single train line that stops in the Financial Capital of the World, the Capital of the US, and 5 other cities (Balto, Philly, Boston, New Haven, Providence) the smallest of which (New Haven) is twice the size of the Quad Cities, and can complete the full run (including stop time) in 6.5 hours (ie almost 20% faster than driving from Boston to DC), then that has a point.

    There are 50,000,000 people living in the service corridor, which has an aggregate density of over 900 people psm–and the less dense areas aren’t really served by the Acela. There is no other train route in the US that could serve that population in that total travel time. The only stretches that are close take a lot longer to cover the distance, and still wouldn’t (reasonably) serve as many people.

    Would a MSP->Madison->MKE->Chicago->Detroit (or Cleveland) route that could go end to end in 8.5 hours (again, 20% faster than driving) draw a good amount of passengers, and perhaps evolve into a break even or better venture? Sure, that could happen. But focusing on a train to and from (relative) podunk aint going to help that cause.