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FRA, states develop 40-year plan to bolster Midwest passenger rail

Plan developed in partnership with Amtrak, freight railroads and state DOTs

The Federal Railroad Administration and regional and state stakeholders have unveiled a 40-year plan aimed at restoring and boosting the existing passenger rail network in the Midwest.

Although the Midwest Regional Rail Plan released on Wednesday focuses on passenger rail, a number of intercity routes used by Amtrak are owned by the freight railroads. Per federal law, the freight railroads must give Amtrak priority on their tracks. 

Because of that, the plan, with the FRA and the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) as the lead developers, was formed in partnership with Amtrak, freight railroads and regional railroads, as well as with 12 state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations, among others. 

The plan is available here.

The plan seeks to examine how to develop Midwest intercity passenger rail connections through 2055, and it focuses on four “cornerstone corridors”: Chicago-Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago-St. Louis, Chicago-Indianapolis and Chicago-Detroit. The 12 states studied during the plan’s creation were Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Amtrak provides service to 11 of the 12 states.

The FRA noted that implementation of the plan would “require extensive coordination among the participating states and stakeholders. However, unlike many other regions, the Midwest already has an established governance structure supporting passenger rail development. MIPRC has served and will continue to serve as an advocacy and governance organization to advance the vision set forth.”

That collaboration will be necessary to get freight rail on board, according to Todd Tranausky, a rail and intermodal consultant with FTR Transportation Intelligence.

“It is important to remember that rail capacity does not exist in a vacuum, and especially with velocity near its five-year average and congestion being the watch word of the day across rail and port supply chains, any rail plan needs to take a holistic approach to not disadvantage freight movements to expand or otherwise aid passenger rail services,” Tranausky said. 

“There is a natural tension between the two that has existed almost since the beginning of modern railroading and so any expansion of passenger operation ought to pay for the freight capacity that it is using on the North American rail network,” he said.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.