Tag Archives: amtrak

Rail to trail: Amtrak allows bicycles on Hiawatha route

Amtrak now allows riders to take bicycles aboard Hiawatha trains running between Milwaukee and Chicago.

It costs $5 to transport a bike and reservations must be made in advance. The service is limited to 15 bicycles per train.

“There’s a lot of people traveling in the Chicago to Milwaukee area that would love the opportunity just to take their bikes along,” said Dave Schlabowske of Wisconsin Bike Fed. Wisconsin Bike Fed encouraged Amtrak officials for at least five years to offer bicycle transport on the Hiawatha line. Previously, bicycles had to be partially taken apart and shipped in cartons.

“Chicago is such a great city for cycling,” Schlabowske said.

And it’s an easy way to tour a dense metropolitan area known for heavy traffic, he added.

Chicago is rated “silver” for bikers. Madison gets gold and Milwaukee has a bronze rating.

In addition to the Hiawatha line, others in Illinois and around the nation have been adding bicycle racks in storage cars in recent years, reflecting the explosive growth of cycling enthusiasts, Schlabowske said.

He predicted the new amenity aboard Hiawatha trains would increase tourism in Wisconsin, as well as Chicago.

The Bike Fed is the nation’s largest statewide organization of bicycle clubs, with more than 6,300 individual members. The advocacy group has offices in Milwaukee, Madison and La Crosse.

In addition to lobbying for protected bike lanes, the Wisconsin Bike Fed is trying to attract a wider range of biking enthusiasts.

Schlabowske said the stereotypical cyclist is a “50-year-old white guy wearing Lycra,” but “that’s not what my community looks like.”

“So we have a number of programs working on diversity in our city (Milwaukee), from lower-income and older people to the LGBT community,” Schlabowske said. “We’re sort of working in a lot of different areas to broaden what our membership looks like.”

There are thousands of organized bike-riding events in Wisconsin, from the Polish Moon Ride to Santa Cycle Rampage. Bike to Work Week began May 16 and May is National Bike Month.

State Sen. Chris Larson kicked off Bike to Work Week during the weekly Democratic radio address May 12.

“Did you know that active employees are more alert, need fewer sick days and are more productive? And that’s not all, in addition to being beneficial to your health, biking is also great for reducing your carbon footprint, reducing traffic congestion, and saving you money,” Larson said.

Among the upcoming cycling events are:

  • UPAF Ride for the Arts. The 35th anniversary event, sponsored by Miller Lite, takes place June 5, beginning at the Summerfest Grounds. Participants can ride or make a pledge.

Pledge prizes include a bike jersey sponsored by Actuant and bicycles from Wheel & Sprocket. Johnson Bank will match pledges totaling up to $25,000.

UPAF, which supports 15 performing arts organizations, hopes to raise $600,000.

  • The Wisconsin AIDS Ride. The annual event, which raises critical funds for the fight against HIV/AIDS, is July 28-31. The full ride stretches 300 miles, from downtown Madison to Horicon — and back — in four days. But participants also can choose one- or two-day options.

For more information

For more about cycling and events in Wisconsin, go online to wisconsinbikefed.org.

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Amtrak bike service takes passengers from rails to trails

Bicyclists from major cities between Washington, D.C. and Chicago who want to bike the C&O Canal towpath or Great Allegheny Passage can now take the rails to their preferred trails with Amtrak’s new roll-on bicycle service.

The bicycle service, which began earlier last month, is available on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line, which runs from Washington, D.C. to Chicago with many stops in between, including the train stations in Cumberland, Maryland, Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. The service is available to passengers seven days a week.

Christopher Craig, owner of a bed and breakfast in Harpers Ferry who is also a member of the Trail and Town Alliance, said the bicycle service is simple to use. When passengers make a reservation to ride on the Capitol Limited, they can also choose to reserve space for a bicycle. The train can accommodate eight bicycles at a time, but the service is based on available space.

“Amtrak carries little commuter traffic. It’s mostly for tourists,” Craig said. “This bike service opens up many possibilities to explore the region. Trail activists, like the Trail and Town Alliance, got involved in pushing for this service because there are hundreds of thousands of bicyclists who travel the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage each year. Most of them start in Pittsburgh or Cumberland for long-distance rides, but not every cyclist wants to do that.”

Prior to the bicycle service, Craig said, passengers could only bring their bikes onto the train at Amtrak stations with baggage service. To return home from a ride, cyclists would have to arrange a ride back to a train station to get home.

John Noel, deputy superintendent with the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said cyclists are the primary users of the park.

“This new service Amtrak is providing is one we’ve worked for a number of years to make available to users. Many visitors to the park have requested something like this,” Noel said. “It’s been a long-standing issue for folks who want to cycle, whether they begin in D.C. or Cumberland-Once your ride is done, how do you get back home?”

Craig said Amtrak had considered starting a bicycle service in the past, but part of the delay stemmed from a funding issue.

“Like many things, Amtrak is not flush with cash right now. It took a group of people pushing for (this service) and encouraging them. There’s even a national committee that has a goal to get bikes on all trains,” he said.

Noel said he expects an increase in the number of bicyclists using the C&O Canal National Historical Park now that the bicycle service is in place.

“It’s pretty early to tell, but I expect to see an increase in bicyclists on the C&O Canal based on the number of requests we got from people who wanted to use this service,” he said.

Craig said the Amtrak bicycle service is part of a larger, regional movement to promote intermodal transportation. Whether it’s for leisure, fitness or commuting, many individuals and groups want to make it easier to walk, bike and take public transit, he said.

Locally, the EPTA now has bike racks on its buses, and Craig said the EPTA has expressed interest in working with Amtrak on the bike service and similar initiatives.

On the Web…

For more information about Amtrak’s Capitol Limited bicycle service, including locations, rates and availability, visit www.amtrak.com/capitol-limited-train.

Editor’s note: Available through AP’s member exchange.


Analysis: Taxpayer cost for Walker’s breach of contract with trainmaker rises to $50M

Wisconsin taxpayers are on the hook for a modernizing rail transportation project Scott Walker nixed when he took office as governor, breaking a contract that ex-Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration entered into with the Spanish trainmaker Talgo. 

Under terms of a settlement made recently in a lawsuit that Talgo filed against the state, Wisconsin will pay $9.7 million to Talgo in addition to the $42 million it’s already paid the company. The total bill taxpayers must pay for trains the state never received or used is $50 million.

Talgo had originally sued the state for nearly $66 million.

Doyle and the state’s then-Democratic Legislature agreed in 2009 to purchase two new train sets from Talgo. They were to be used for Amtrak’s popular Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as for a high-speed rail project between Milwaukee and Madison.

In addition to agreeing to purchase the trains, the state had entered into a 20-year maintenance agreement to service the trains, a deal to provide a maintenance facility and an option to purchase two additional train sets.

The deal fell victim to politics, as the new governor sought to burnish his credentials as an “anti-big government” conservative. The rail project was tied to $810 million in federal stimulus money to help pay for it, but Walker rejected the federal funding, depicting it as part of a scheme to foster state dependency on Washington.

Still, Talgo continued building the train sets that the state had agreed to purchase. In January 2012, Talgo notified the state they were ready for delivery, but the Wisconsin Department of Transportation refused to accept them. In November 2012, Talgo canceled its purchase contract with the state.

According to the settlement, Talgo will try to sell the two train sets it built for Wisconsin to another buyer. If successful, the train manufacturer will give 30 percent of the sale price to Wisconsin. 

But Nora Friend, the company’s vice president of public affairs and business development, told Milwaukee Business Journal that it would be difficult to find a buyer. Part of the problem is that the trains were not built to meet federal specifications, because they were paid for by the state, according to MBJ.

“We are hopeful we will find a state that is actually open to doing business and actually honors their contracts,” Friend told the publication.

Politics over people

Walker’s critics say the rejection of federal money and the subsequent loss of jobs and high-speed rail was the first in a series of destructive economic decisions the governor made.

Walker’s public argument at the time was that the project would eventually cost the state millions in maintenance fees.

But advocates for the project claimed it was potentially a vital economic development engine that would create jobs and spur new business growth along the rail line, as it has in other regions that have modernized rail.

In light of the Talgo deal, critics charged Walker with hypocrisy when he sought to borrow more than $1.3 billion for new highway projects in the 2015–17 biennial budget. At the time, Walker argued that the road construction would help create jobs. That’s something Walker has said the government should not be in the business of doing.

Walker also has been criticized for saying yes to the considerable federal funds that the state receives for road construction while turning down funds for other forms of transportation. He enjoys major financial support from roadbuilders and donors whose wealth is tied to the fossil fuel industry, leading to accusations that his transportation decisions are being made on their behalf rather than that of the state’s residents. 

Some of the highway projects Walker supports were found to be unnecessary, according to an independent audit of traffic flow patterns commissioned by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

A court decision earlier this year denied federal funds for a project to widen Highway 23 due to faulty traffic-flow projections from WisDOT. In response, the Republican-led Legislature included an item in the budget requiring WisDOT to reevaluate and justify its methods of traffic projections.

Walker vetoed that item, which watchdog groups said could have saved Wisconsin taxpayers billions of dollars.

4 passengers stabbed aboard Amtrak train traveling from Chicago to Michigan

Four people were stabbed on an Amtrak train traveling from Chicago to Port Huron, Michigan. 

A suspect is in custody and the four wounded people were taken to hospitals. The victims’ medical statuses are unknown.

The South Bend Tribune in Indiana reports that Niles, Michigan, Police Chief Jim Millin says someone called police from aboard the train Friday night to report a suspicious person. When police arrived at the Niles train station, the attack was already underway.

Millin says one of the train’s conductors was among those wounded.

Police say the 44-year-old suspect is from Saginaw, Michigan. Police have not said what might have motivated the attack or whether the suspect knew any of the victims.

An Amtrak spokeswoman says the company arranged alternate transportation for 172 passengers.

Niles is about 10 miles north of South Bend, Indiana, near the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Amtrak officials said the incident took place on Train 364, the Blue Water line, while the train was at the station in Niles. 

“Crazy world we live in. Some man just stabbed 4 people one car away from me on the train,” tweeted passenger @Chris_Maynard. He uploaded a photograph of a man in a gray jacket lying in handcuffs on the floor of the train.

UPDATE: Aug. 13 hearing in Wisconsin marriage equality case canceled

The Aug. 13 hearing set for the oral arguments in the Wisconsin marriage equality case has been canceled and no new date set.

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Rainbow cookie, cute car – LGBT-friendly ad campaigns get nods

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation on Sept. 11 announced nominees for 2012 Amplifier Awards honoring the best of LGBT-friendly promotions.

The awards will be presented on Oct. 2 at XL Nightclub in New York City.

Nominees include:

• J.C. Penney for its Father’s Day ad featuring two gay dads with their children.

• Johnson & Johnson’s anti-bullying campaign “Care with Pride.”

• General Motors “cheeky ad” for the Chevy Volt.

• Lexus for its celebration of the 45th anniversary of The Advocate.

• Amtrak for its “Ride with Pride” campaign.

• American Apparel for its Pride campaign featuring transgender model Isis King.

• You Can Play Project for its partnership with professional hockey players to help put an end to homophobia in sports.

“The advertising and marketing industries are catching up with the rest of the media by including more images of LGBT people in mainstream ads that target broad audiences,” GLAAD president Herndon Graddick said in a news release. “Americans expect to see their worlds reflected in advertising, and today that includes LGBT people and families. This year’s nominated campaigns are not only smart business decisions, but set the bar high for future images of our community in advertising and marketing.”

GLAAD says the Amplifer Awards promote advertising and PR campaigns for “groundbreaking representations of the LGBT community.

A jury of staff members from Omnicom Group, Deutsch, Digitas Health, Ketchum, Omnicom Media Group, Publicis Kaplan Thaler, TBWA select the nominees.

On the Web…

http://www.glaad.org/amplifierawards

The list

2012 GLAAD AMPLIFIER AWARDS NOMINEES

Advertising – The Hot Spot (Mainstream Market)

“Care with Pride” (Johnson & Johnson)

“First Pals” (J.C. Penney)

“Make a Difference. Save a Life.” (Desert AIDS Project)

“Never Hide” (Ray-Ban)

“Testing Makes Us STRONGER” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Advertising – The Hot Spot (LGBT Market)

“Lexus Celebrates The Advocate’s 45th Anniversary” (Lexus)

“Mom, Dad, I’m Electric.” (General Motors)

“Orbitz Price Assurance” (Orbitz)

“Outrageous Through the Ages” (Absolut Vodka/RuPaul’s Drag Race)

“Red Ribbon Runway” (Gilead Sciences/RuPaul’s Drag Race)

“Ride with Pride” (Amtrak)

Digital – Out and Interactive

“Advocate Money Minute Presented by Wells Fargo” (Wells Fargo)

“Be You, With Us” (Marriott)

“Equality Is _____” (Allstate Insurance Co.)

Oreo Pride Cookie (Kraft Foods)

“SAGECAP” (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders)

Public Relations – Out and Proud

“The Faceoff” (You Can Play Project)

“Land of Dreams” (Brand USA)

LGBT Pride 2012 (American Apparel)

“Project Honesty” (KY Brand)

“Weigh It Forward” (Philadelphia Gay News)