MIPRC’s 2020 ‘virtual’ annual meeting draws record attendance
Commissioners, partners and allies of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission met via Zoom on Nov. 10-11 for MIPRC’s 2020 Annual Meeting, to assess regional developments since 2019 and plan for 2021.
Over the course of a day and a-half, a record 85 attendees saw and discussed presentations on the status of passenger rail at the federal level after the Nov. 3 elections – with Anne Canby, director of OneRail, and Andrea Wohleber, a staffer on the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee – and:
• MIPRC Year in Review (Laura Kliewer, MIPRC director)
• The FRA’s vision and priorities (Paul Nissenbaum, associate administrator for railroad policy & development)
• Amtrak’s vision and priorities (Joe McHugh, vice president – state-supported business line)
• Next steps for the FRA-led Midwest Regional Rail Plan (Peter Schwartz, project manager)
• Passenger rail developments in MIPRC states (state Departments of Transportation)
• Marketing the Midwest’s Passenger Rail Service: Take 2 (Crystal DuPont, project and marketing manager/passenger rail management, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, continuing a discussion from the 2019 Annual Meeting)
(You can see the full agenda here.)
Commissioners agreed that in 2021, MIPRC will prioritize a state funding component for the proposed second daily train between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago to compliment and supplement the daily Empire Builder service. The project this year won a $31.8 million CRISI (Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements) grant to help cover necessary track improvements, and a $12.6 million Restoration & Enhancement grant to cover startup costs. While Wisconsin and Amtrak provided matching funds, Minnesota has not – and that remains the only missing piece to begin construction of the required infrastructure improvements.
Other MIPRC priorities for 2021 include a continued push for federal funding to restore daily service on Amtrak’s long-distance routes, which Amtrak trimmed due to COVID-19-related ridership drops; pursuit of federal funding for next steps after the Federal Railroad Administration-led Midwest Regional Rail Plan is formally released; and continued active involvement to ensure a strong passenger rail component in re-authorization the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015, which has been extended for a year and so expires next year (MIPRC’s current re-authorization principles can be seen here).
Commissioners also unanimously re-elected Bob Guy as chair and Indiana Rep. Sharon Negele as financial officer. Guy is the Illinois state director for SMART-Transportation Division and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s private sector appointee to MIPRC. Rep. Negele is the Indiana House-appointed commissioner.
They also unanimously elected Arun Rao as vice chair but kept outgoing vice chair David Simon in place pending Rao’s official appointment by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers to the Commission. Rao is passenger rail implementation manager at the Wisconsin DOT and is expected to replace Simon as Gov. Evers’ designee to MIPRC. Simon is now vice president, director of Wisconsin operations for Quandel Consultants.
MIPRC’s 2021 Annual Meeting will be held in Detroit on October 13-15. This year’s annual meeting was planned for Detroit but had to be deferred to next year due to continued COVID restrictions.