Positive Passenger Rail News Across the Country
This week was full of good news about passenger rail projects making progress across the country. Communities are working hard to implement new or improved train service, taking advantage of the record federal funding for passenger rail included in the IIJA. From California, to Montana, Illinois and North Carolina, there’s a lot to be excited about it. We also look abroad to the ambitious high-speed rail network being developed in Morocco.
On Thursday, city leaders in Peoria, IL announced the results of a feasibility study for a new passenger rail corridor connecting Peoria, Lasalle-Peru, Utica, Ottawa, Morris, Joliet, and Chicago. Peoria is the largest metro area in Illinois without passenger trains, and initial results of the study show there is demand and public support for the project.
The proposed service level includes 5-round trips per day, taking a little over two and a half hours to travel the corridor at 79 mph. The study surveyed 31,000 residents, showing strong support for the project. 83.2% of respondents said they were “very likely” to take the train, while 11.4% said they were “somewhat likely” to use the service.
The next step is for the Illinois Department of Transportation to include the corridor in their rail plan and Mayor Rita Ali said they plan on applying for federal assistance via the FRA’s Corridor and Identification Program.
Caltrain’s first electric trainset underwent testing last weekend, marking another milestone in Caltrain’s transition from a commuter-oriented service to a state-of-the-art regional rail system. This initial test was to ensure that the trains meet clearance requirements, and it was reported that no major problems were discovered.
Caltrain’s switch to electric trains will enable faster and more frequent service and provide environmental benefits by improving regional air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Caltrain is taking advantage of high-speed rail funding to create the nation’s first true regional rail line, offering departures every 15 minutes throughout the day and reduced travel times. It’s setting an example for how commuter rail can transition to all-day service and shows how high-speed rail projects positively impact rail networks beyond the initial high-speed line.
Morocco National Railways Office has completed a feasibility study for the first phase of the Maghreb high-speed line, an extension to their existing high-speed rail network. The new line would connect the capital Rabat with the city of Fez, about 200km to the east, and eventually extend to Oujda at the eastern border of Morocco.
In 2018 Morocco inaugurated Africa’s first true high-speed line, running between Tangier, the capital Rabat and Casablanca at speeds up to 320km/h. The Maghreb line is the next step in Morocco’s plan to construct a 1,300 km high-speed network between Morocco’s major cities. Another line between Casablanca, Marrakech, and Agadir are also in the planning stage. When the network is complete, it will connect 43 cities, 14 ports and 12 airports.
The Montana Department of Transportation has joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority as an ex officio board member. The passenger rail authority is working to establish inter-city rail service across southern Montana, likely through the creation of a new long-distance service to be operated by Amtrak.
MDT joins BNSF Railway, Amtrak and three tribal nations as non-voting members of the board. The Authority is now looking towards the launch of the Amtrak Long-Distance Service Study and cooperating with them to make the case for train service in southern Montana. This study will look at opportunities to establish and improve long-distance passenger rail lines throughout the country, and Montana is eager to be included.