Tagtrains

Chicago’s Lake Street ‘L’ was originally supposed to be a monorail

I bought a copy of The “L”: The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932, written by Bruce Moffat, a historian of electric trains in Chicago. Moffat currently works for the Chicago Transit Authority. (If there wasn’t a pandemic, you’d be able to request a hold on one of the 50 copies at the Chicago Public Library.)

The book is about the elevated trains that were built in Chicago, in competition with the street omnibuses (horse drawn), railways (cable cars and streetcars), and suburban trains (okay, some competition), prior to establishing the Chicago Transit Authority. The CTA is a State of Illinois authority, created by the legislature, that today owns and operates all of the historic and since-built elevated, subway, and at-grade ‘L’ transit as well as buses. It acquired all of the assets of all of the ‘L’, streetcar, and bus companies that were operating when it was established in 1945.

On with the story!

Back in December 1888, the Chicago City Council approved a franchise for the Lake Street Elevated Company to build a Meigs Elevated Railway above Lake Street from Canal Street to 40th Avenue (later named Crawford and now Pulaski Road), then the western border of Chicago. A tract of land west of 40th Avenue (Pulaski Road) was incorporated into the City of Chicago four months later on April 29, 1889.

If you go to the intersection of Canal and Lake Streets today you’ll see the Union Pacific railroad tracks above, heading into and out of Ogilvie Transportation Center, a skyscraper at 444 W Lake Street, a cigar store, and a vintage loft office building.

The Meigs Elevated Railway was a steam-powered elevated monorail – meaning each track had one rail to support a train.

You may not know this: I love monorails. When my family visited Walt Disney World my favorite ride was the inter-park and world famous monorail. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Disneyland (but I don’t remember my time there), Las Vegas, Seattle, Düsseldorf airport, Wuppertal, and three in Tokyo, Japan (Chiba City, Shonan, and Haneda airport; I missed the one in Tama).

I used to be obsessed with monorails. I became a member of The Monorail Society when I was a teenager and my first eBay purchase was a Disney monorail motorized toy in March 2000. I was jealous of my friends in elementary school who had a Lego monorail, and now they regularly sell for $200. I also built a SAFEGE-style monorail out of K’NEX in high school.

Drawing of the Meigs Elevated Railway monorail.
A drawing of the Meigs Elevated Railway monorail, originally published in Scientific American, July 10, 1886. Via Wikipedia; also printed in Moffat’s book where it is sourced from Railway Age, a trade journal founded in 1856 that still exists today.

It was invented by Josiah V. Meigs in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a 227-foot long demonstration line was built in 1886 on land that is now a Fairfield Inn hotel and before that was the Genoa Packing Co. (demolished in 2013).

The Meigs Elevated Railway Wikipedia article has two photos of a plaque that was on the exterior wall of the Genoa Packing Co. The new hotel building does not have the same plaque.

The Lake Street Elevated Company organizers (seven incorporators are listed in the book) hired Morris H. Alberger to be the president. According to Moffat’s book, “Alberger had convinced his fellow directors that their railroad should use an experimental and relatively complex elevated railway system developed by Joe V. Meigs”. Alberger was also the president of the Meigs Elevated Railway Company.

Moffat discusses an eighth company organizer: Michael Cassius McDonald, “politically well connected and influential”. He was the “chief sponsor” and “promoter” of the Lake Street elevated proposal which came to be known as “Mike’s Upstairs Railroad”.

The Meigs Electric Railway – the monorail – was never built. Moffat says that the reason the monorail was never built was because it was difficult to promote and raised funds by selling shares.

Almost a year after City Council approved the MER to run over Lake Street, they “deleted the Meigs requirement” in November 1890 so that the Lake Street Elevated Company could build a traditional iron structure. The trains would also be “traditional”. (The first elevated train started running in Manhattan and the Bronx on August 26, 1878 – that was the Third Avenue Elevated – ten years prior to the Meigs monorail being approved in Chicago.)

Even before City Council “deleted” the franchise’s requirement to build a monorail, the Lake Street Elevated Company had already started building the iron structure for a train in December 1889, at Lake and Clinton Streets, where the Clinton Green Line station is now.

That’s the end of the story for the monorail, but I’ll continue talking about the Lake Street ‘L’.

The Lake Street Elevated opens!

Construction had reached “just west of Ashland Avenue” by October 1892, less than three years after the first iron girder was erected at Clinton. A year after that last construction milestone at Ashland, the tracks for service were completed to California Avenue (2800 West).

The Lake Street Elevated Company’s first service was set to begin on October 30, 1893. The opening was delayed, however, until an inauguration on Saturday, November 4, 1893, to mourn the death of Mayor Carter Harrison, who was assassinated during his fifth term. Passenger service began two days later on Monday, November 6, 1893.

Service was extended into the Loop elevated tracks in 1895.

Map of the Lake Street Elevated, from Market Street (now Wacker Drive) to Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.
Map of the Lake Street Elevated, from Market Street (now Wacker Drive) to Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.

Heading closer to downtown Chicago

In early 1893, the Lake Street Elevated Company wanted to run their trains down Market Street (now Wacker Drive) from Lake Street to Madison Street.

Photograph showing the elevated stub track on Market Street. The view is looking east along Lake Street at Market Street, where the elevated train would turn south.
Photograph showing the elevated stub track on Market Street. The view is looking east along Lake Street at Market Street, where the elevated train would turn south. Photo taken by a Chicago Daily News, Inc., photographer in 1908. The caption in the Explore Chicago Collections database says,

The Market Street “stub” ran past the future site of the Civic Opera Building, opened in November 1929. Operagoers and workers in the office tower of the building would have ridden the ‘L’ here until the Chicago Transit Authority

The Lake Street Elevated’s Market Street stub terminated at Madison Street. The Civic Opera Building is on the left. Image is from the CTA’s collection. Market Street was renamed Wacker Drive when the street was reconstructed as a double decker street starting in 1948.

Extending further into the Garfield Park neighborhood

Tracks were built six blocks west of California Avenue, to Homan Avenue, but the stations were incomplete. Service to the Homan station started November 24, 1893, and four blocks further west to Hamlin Avenue in January 1894.

The Homan Avenue station no longer exists. Today’s Green Line over Lake Street was rebuilt from 1994 to 1996 and the Homan station was abandoned. According to Chicago “L”.org, the CTA decided to move the station two blocks west to Central Park Drive (3600 West). It was “completely deconstructed in spring of 2000 and put into storage”. It was renovated, made accessible, and opened as the Conservatory-Central Park Drive station in June 2001.

Chicago “L”.org notes that this visitors access to the Garfield Park Conservatory, evens out stop spacing, but does not intersect a bus route which Homan Ave does. The CTA closed Hamlin station on March 18, 1956. I don’t know when it was demolished.

Onward, to Austin and Oak Park!

Back to the Lake Street elevated timeline. Serviced operated to Hamlin Avenue in 1894. The next year it was operating to 52nd Avenue (now Laramie Avenue), the western boundary of Chicago. On the other side of that boundary was the Township of Cicero. Austin, a township neighborhood, was annexed by Chicago in 1899. The Village of Oak Park eventually emerged from the township, incorporating in 1902.

Austin was location of Cicero’s town hall. The town hall building, at the Central and Lake station, is now part of the Austin Town Hall Park and Cultural Center, owned and operated by the Chicago Park District.

Austin Town Hall in Chicago, Illinois
Austin Town Hall, the former town hall of the Township of Cicero. Photo taken in 2019 by Eric Allix Rogers.

Moffat’s book describes a lot of political controversy about extending the Lake Street Elevated into Cicero, which seems fitting for the Chicago region. Passenger service to Austin Avenue (now Boulevard) started April 19, 1899.

The next month, on May 14, 1989, trains that ran east-west above Lake Street came down a ramp – to the surface – onto north-south Lombard Avenue a couple of blocks south to Randolph Street. They turned west onto Randolph Street and continued until Wisconsin Avenue/Marion Street. The tracks on Randolph Street were in the middle of the street, and owned by Suburban Railroad, an interurban railway company.

The tracks were previously owned by Chicago, Harlem & Batavia Railway. I’m including that information because I grew up there. However, the railroad never made it that far: “No effort was made to extend the railroad to that distance place, but money was spent to purchase new locomotives and passenger cars and make other improvements.”

Residents here had the option of taking trains into downtown Chicago on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Those tracks are now owned by Union Pacific, which also operates the former C&NW lines as Metra’s UP-West Line. The line terminates at Ogilvie Transportation Center, which used to be called Northwestern Station, which was C&NW’s second location for their downtown terminal.

Moffat discussed these passengers’ choices, writing, “Although a ride on the nearby Chicago & Northwestern was faster, the “L’s” more frequent schedule, convenient Loop stops, and lower fare drew many riders away from the steam railroad”. The same is true today; the ‘L’ costs less than Metra but takes longer to reach the West Loop.

The story about the construction and operation of the Lake Street Elevated is almost done. I’m going to end it as soon as the train reaches the current terminus at Harlem Avenue in Oak Park.

Service to Marion Street started in late January 1901, on the street level of South Boulevard, thus ending service on Randolph Street a few blocks south. Trains started servicing the Harlem station on May 20, 1910. Remember that the reason the trains are now on South Boulevard is because Lake Street runs with a slight northwest diagonal, ends at the Chicago & Northwestern Railway embankment, and resumes a few blocks west. In 1961, the line was elevated onto C&NW’s embankment.

Even though the station is currently called “Harlem/Lake”, the station is at Harlem/South Boulevard, and Lake Street is one block north.


N.B.

Meigs’s railway was mentioned in an op-ed in the Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday, February 23, 1992, as the newspapers’s architecture critic, Robert Campbell, and Peter Vanderwarker, an architectural historian, lamented the towering car infrastructure proposed in the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also known as “Big Dig”, the most expensive highway construction in the country), as well as the darkening effect of the elevated trains. It’s really quite an essay.

The op-ed in the Boston Globe Magazine, 2/23/1992

But competition was vicious. Arson and vandalism hampered Meigs, as did his insistence on old-fashioned steam power instead of electricity. Nothing besides the Cambridge test line was ever built. The Meigs monorail made its last run in 1894. Conventional elevated trains, modeled on those of Manhattan and far more massive than Meigs’, soon darkened Boston’s streets.

[snipped]

By the end of this decade, the view will have changed radically. A dramatic Babel of steel and concrete, perhaps resembling a great sports stadium, will rise like a gray mountain in the middle distance at the left of the photo. The introverted automobile will have won its long battle for supremacy over the sociable train.

“MEIGS ELEVATED RAILWAY – Changing TRACKS”, By Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker

Meigs Field, a former airport in downtown Chicago that existed between 1948 and 2003, was named after Merrill C. Meigs, a pilot and former head of the Chicago Aero Commission. He believed that Chicago needed a third airport, within 10 minutes of downtown. The airport was built and named after Meigs in 1949. I haven’t found a relationship between the two Meigs.

Bikes on trains, Bremen, Germany edition

As part of my “continuing coverage” of how bikes are welcomed (or not) on transit, I’m pointing out how bikes are accommodated on trains in Germany.

My friend and I rode our bikes from central Bremen (the name of the city and its state) to the Valentin submarine pens in the north part of the state (the smallest state in Germany), a 22 miles journey. View an approximation of our route through a rural part of North Germany. The map shows a ferry from the west side of Weser River to the east, which we took. I think it cost 1€ per person, one way.

On our way back we took two trains:

  • A shuttle train, essentially, from Bremen-Farge to Bremen-Vegesack. Operated by NordWestBahn. 18 minutes trip.
  • A Regionalbahn train from Bremen-Vegesack to Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station). Operated by DB Regio. 23 minutes trip. This trip required an extra ticket, just for the bicycle.

Both trains have designated spaces for bicycles as well as “seat belts” with hooks on the end for wrapping around your bike and then to a pole or to the belt itself.

Our bikes on the first train to Bremen-Vegesack.

Our bikes on the second train to central Bremen.

The train station at our final destination, Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station).

Find more related photos:

Is this the sign of things to come for the CTA?

The Mayor of Chicago has considerable influence over the Chicago Transit Authority. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel let Chicagoans know on Tuesday, April 19, 2011, partially how he intends to wield that influence. This post is a look into the recent announcements regarding transit in Chicago.

1. Forrest Claypool “appointed” as CTA president*

During the press conference, Rahm had some choice words and expended a little of his still-growing political capital:

He shares my belief that (the CTA) is our most critical piece of infrastructure. Forrest has the experience to capitalize on the CTA’s strengths and the creative mind to guide its future.

He didn’t mention our roads, highways, or airports. While Mayor Daley may have shirked finding the best funding solutions for the Chicago Transit Authority, saying it’s the state legislature’s responsibility, Rahm and his choice for president staking a bigger role in leading the CTA. Chicago Tribune, April 19, 2011

2. Gabe Klein at CDOT

The Chicago Department of Transportation supports the CTA in many respects. It owns the downtown subways and subway stations. It can renovate or build stations for the CTA. For example, CDOT is currently renovating the Grand/State Red Line station and building the completely new Morgan/Lake Green/Pink Line station. Gabe is a very transit-friendly DOT commissioner. In Washington, D.C., he helped launch a streetcar project to supplement the city’s bus and subway networks.

Robert Thomson, or “Dr. Gridlock” from the Washington Post, defended Klein from a letter writer with a windshield perspective on traveling within the city:

Klein was trying to restore an old balance that would allow everyone to move around more easily. “People think about having to move X number of cars,” he said. “We’ve tried to think about how we’re moving people. . . . We want to provide people with attractive choices.” Washington Post, December 11, 2010 (just days after Gabe announced his resignation)

3. Ray LaHood and the Red Line Extension

Rahm says he’s gung ho about extending the Red Line from 95th to 130th, a project that will cost over $1.2 billion. The plans are waiting for funding. On his campaign website, Rahm expressed his interest in the project: “Rahm will make it a major priority of his administration” and mentioning how he would leverage every available funding opportunity to get it built.

During his visit on Thursday to Chicago, reporters asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about funding this project. As I expected, he offered no clear answer:

LaHood made no commitment to fulfill Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s stated plan to line up federal funding in his first year in office to extend the south branch of the CTA Red Line from its current terminus at 95th Street another 5.5 miles to 130th Street. [LaHood said he] would invite incoming CTA President Forrest Claypool and Gabe Klein, whom Emanuel selected to head the Chicago Department of Transportation, to Washington to lay out their project priorities and present cost estimates for the work. Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2011

Currently, the CTA has not applied for funding for this project so Ray couldn’t provide any different answer.

See all of my 500+ Chicago Transit Authority photos.

*It should be noted that the Transit Act requires the board to choose the president, not the Mayor of Chicago. From (70 ILCS 3605/27) (from Ch. 111 2/3, par. 327): “The Board may appoint an Executive Director [president] who shall be a person of recognized ability and experience in the operation of transportation systems to hold office during the pleasure of the Board. The Executive Director shall have management of the properties and business of the Authority and the employees thereof, subject to the general control of the Board…”

Italian train network looks modern and decrepit simultaneously

Italian trains and stations look modern and decrepit simultaneously. One of a thousand observations on my trip to Europe in December and January.

MODERN: Roma Termini (main station) has at least 50 automatic ticket vending machines that accept credit and debit cards and display text in multiple languages.

DECREPIT: Many train cars have copious graffiti. This train appeared as if it hadn’t moved in weeks, like the one on the right in this photo.

MODERN: But then Italy has something the United States will not have for several more years (go Florida!): a high-speed train. This one travels up to 300 KM/H (186 M/H). I caught my train going 247 KM/H from Roma to Milano.

In Chicago, I think there’s more of a balance to the train state of affairs: not so modern, but not so decrepit either. New stations opened on the Brown Line but without the fancy glass ceilings from the early renderings (had to cut costs). Train cars are 40 years old (new ones in testing). Subway stations have dismal lighting (coupled with the dirty windows it’s hard to tell the difference between the platform and the tunnel areas). Metra just started accepting credit cards at the downtown stations in 2010.

Great photo vantage points for trains

Urban expressways are a good way to divide cities and remove housing and businesses. But for the highways with trains running through or alongside them, they provide a clear view of the trains from above on an overpass or tall structure.

Here’s a collection of photos taken from above the tracks.

A Red Line train to 95th slows as it crosses under the 33rd Street overpass into the Sox-35th station.

A Blue Line train enters the portal at the Circle Interchange. Next stop: Clinton.

For many years, Metra showed TV commercials; slogan and jingle was, “Meeeetra, the way to really flyyyyy!” This train is being pushed into the Ogilvie Transportation Center.

Where are your favorite “railfan” vantage points?

Other overpasses in cities I like:

  • 97th and Park Avenue in Manhattan, New York. During rush hours, you’ll see a Metro North train every 30 seconds (or less, even).
  • Pedestrian overpass at Hiawatha Avenue and 24th Street East in Minneapolis where you’ll see the sleek Bombardier-built Metro trains. Another photo.
  • Numerous streets and pedestrian bridges over the Metra Electric lines in Chicago. During rush hour, the trains operate on a CTA-like schedule. Photo from 18th Street pedestrian bridge.
  • Roosevelt Road in the South Loop, Chicago, Illinois. You’ll see lots of Amtrak and Metra trains on 10 different tracks.

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

High-speed rail stimulus awards coverage and summary

President Barack Obama was in Tampa, Florida, Thursday morning to announce the winners of the high-speed intercity passenger rail funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). The best coverage of this topic is on The Transport Politic.

View a spreadsheet summarizing all of the high-speed rail corridors, their award amount, and investment projects. I prepared this document based on the press releases from the White House Press Office. With these press releases, I also created the construction summary below.

The Acela, a train traveling from Washington, D.C., to Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, is the country’s only high-speed rail, achieving a top speed of 150 miles per hour for only a few minutes. Photo by Jonathan Rissmeyer.

Construction Summary

Construction will occur in the following corridors*:

  • Northeast
    • New track and signals on the New York – Albany – Buffalo corridor.
    • New track on the New York – Montreal corridor.
    • Track will be restored/repaired on the Boston – Portland – Brunswick corridor.
    • A station will be built in Greenfield, MA, a station restored in Northampton, MA, and 11 new miles of track in CT, on the New Haven – Springfield – Burlington – St. Albans corridor.
  • Midwest
    • Two stations will be renovated in Troy and Battle Creek, MI, and a new station built in downtown Dearborn, MI, on the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago corridor.
    • Also on the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago corridor, a flyover, approach bridges, embankment and retaining walls will be built in Indiana.
    • Construction in Illinois on the Pontiac – Detroit – Chicago corridor includes the relocation, reconfiguration, and addition of high-speed crossovers and related signal system improvements, rail line additions at two locations, and the creation of a new passing tracks.
    • In Iowa, find four, new, remotely controlled powered crossovers on the BNSF Ottumwa subdivision.
    • Cities in Ohio will see various construction projects on the Cleveland – Columbus – Dayton – Cincinnati corridor, including new stations and upgraded track.
    • Illinois becomes the center of attention again on the Chicago – Milwaukee corridor, with various track and station improvements.
    • New stations will be built along the Milwaukee – Madison corridor, which will also see various track upgrades.
    • Illinois is the center of the Midwest rail network. The third largest award in this grant program goes to the Chicago – St. Louis corridor, for upgraded track, signals, and stations, installation of positive train control, and some CREATE projects to reduce congestion in and outside of Chicago.**
    • The St. Louis – Kansas City corridor will see upgraded bridges, crossovers, and improved grade crossings.
  • Pacific Northwest
    • On the Seattle – Portland corridor, expect construction of a bypass track, grade separations, the addition of Positive Train Control, and seismic retrofits to King Station in Seattle, WA.
    • The Portland Union Station will be upgraded.
  • South and Southeast
    • Between Fort Worth and Austin, new signals at grade crossings will be installed.
    • The Charlotte – Raleigh corridor will receive track upgrades.
    • Four new crossovers will be constructed in the Raleigh – Richmond corridor.
    • Between Richmond – Washington, D.C., trains will travel over 11 new miles of high-speed track
  • California
    • The California High Speed Rail Authority receives the largest chunk to construct track, signals, and stations.
    • On the Pacific Surfliner Corridor (San Luis Obispo – Los Angeles – San Diego), new track and crossovers will be constructed.

View on Google Docs or download an Excel file.

*This construction summary is about as complete as the press releases from the White House. I reviewed each press release and copied the information that indicated where construction or upgrades of new or existing project components would actually occur. I excluded planning, environmental impact statements, engineering, and design components of the above projects. I compiled the most important information from the White House press releases into a spreadsheet.

**UPDATED: For more CREATE and Englewood Flyover information, which was funded at $133 million, see page 2 of the Federal Railroad Administration’s summary handout (PDF) and this discussion on Railroad.net.

Thursday is a big day for high-speed rail in America

UPDATE 2: The Transport Politic has the most detailed and comprehensive information on high-speed rail project/corridor funding, a better looking map than Ray LaHood’s map on LaHood’s blog. The White House Press Office posted separate press releases for each project here.

UPDATE: Chicago Business (Crain’s) says Illinois to get $1.2 billion for high-speed rail projects, including money to build the Englewood Flyover connection (Project P1, see map), a major CREATE component (read more: PDF). CREATE is a multi-agency program to reduce the bottlenecks caused by mixing passenger and freight trains and at-grade road crossings.

Tomorrow, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Tampa, Florida, to announce the thirteen corridors winning a portion of $8 billion in funding for high-speed passenger rail projects.

Infrastructurist predicts four winners.

An Amtrak train heads south from Chicago Union Station. If Illinois receives stimulus funding for high-speed rail, we may see some faster locomotives and some new track emerging from the Chicago South Loop train yards.

Vice President Biden, President Obama, and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (from Peoria, Illinois), announced the high-speed passenger rail plan for the United States in Washington, D.C., in April 2009. Photo by Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, Illinois.

One of the winners Infrastructurist predicts is the State of Illinois on behalf of a project to upgrade the tracks and rolling stock for the Amtrak lines Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle that run from Chicago to St. Louis. This is by far the state’s most prosperous route. The Illinois DOT has increased the subsidy to this route, increasing the frequency of service. In response, ridership has grown year over year over year (although the gain from 2008 to 2009 was only 6 percent).

Will Americans soon travel with more convenience in the coming decade?

The airport link

On Friday I wrote about improving bicycle connections to the nation’s airports (daily destinations for thousands of passengers and workers). I’ll continue working towards this goal, but in the meantime I want to point out what I see as more important: Extending trains to the airport.

A revenue train built by Kinki-Sharyo pulls into the airport station. See more opening day photos from Atomic Taco.

The Sound Transit Link light rail opened to the public on yesterday, Saturday, December 19, 2009, taking travelers and passengers from downtown Seattle south to Seattle-Tacoma airport (SEA) in SeaTac, Washington*. The Seattle region now joins the fortunate ranks of North American cities with direct train access to the major airport. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, opened the Canada Line this year, connecting to YVR.

*SeaTac, Washington, is a real city! Visit the Wikipedia article to learn more. The town has only been incorporated since 1990.

Whose light rail train do you prefer?

In just one year, I’ve traveled to the grand opening for the Phoenix Valley’s (Arizona) first light rail line, visited the light rail lines in Salt Lake City, Utah, (opened before the 2002 Winter Olympics), and took the Megabus to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to check out the Hiawatha light rail. My devotion to monorail is unphased, but in the United States we build monorail lines at a rate of one per decade. To get my train fix, I ride light rail trains around the country. Each of the systems I mentioned uses rolling stock from different manufacturers.

Here you get to pick the best looking cars:

Kinki-Sharyo, a manufacturer from Japan. LF LRV (low floor light rail vehicle).

A Valley Metro train waiting at the Roosevelt/Central Avenue station in Phoenix, Arizona, on December 28, 2009, for the grand opening festivities. Kinki-Shary makes many commuter and shinkansen trains for Japan.

Bombardier, a Canadian builder. Flexity Swift car.

The Metro Transit Hiawatha line (route 55) travels northbound along the Hiawatha corridor multi-use path, approaching 24th Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Siemens, a German company. SD-100 or SD-160 car.

UTA’s TRAX light rail in the Salt Lake City valley operates trains from the Canadian-originated Urban Transportation Development Corporation (now part of Bombardier) and Siemens SD-100 series trains. The UTDC trains have butterfly doors (like some cars on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line); an example from TRAX.

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