30.7.05

PUBLIC CHOICE. The line item veto is a rather versatile tool. Wisconsin's Governor Jim Doyle changed a few numbers in the state budget to cope with a hold-up from Illinois.
Doyle said he will use his veto power to add the increased aid when he signs Wisconsin's fiscal 2006 budget on Monday. He said the additional aid was needed because the state of Illinois recently passed its budget with a cap on its funding for the Hiawatha route.
These cross-border squabbles will be the undoing of any national plan to devolve Amtrak to the states.
President George W. Bush has proposed eliminating federal operating support for Amtrak. The Bush administration wants states, not the federal government, to pay to operate interstate passenger trains.
Wisconsin recently paid for a station at Mitchell Field on the south side of Milwaukee; residents of the northern suburbs of Chicago have discovered that this particular train to the planes can be a bit less painful than heading to the closer "If you've got time to spare, fly O'Hare." That is the kind of asset-specific transaction that lends itself to a hold-up, in this case by an Illinois governor who is discovering that raising business taxes is not always effective at raising revenue.

Sometimes the funding for the trains comes with an additional handling charge.
In a huge boost to the effort to extend Chicago's Metra commuter trains from Kenosha to Racine and Milwaukee, the bill provides $80 million for the proposed 33-mile line, more than half of the expected $152 million price tag. That's the second major step for the project this month, after the 2005-'07 [Wisconsin] state budget set up a Regional Transit Authority to oversee the line and levy a $2 rental car tax.
That's not all.

The federal government will chip in another $3.76 million to rebuild Milwaukee's downtown Amtrak station into a combined train and intercity bus depot. That will nearly double the $4 million in state, federal and private money already pledged, and Mayor Tom Barrett is calling for another $4 million or $5 million in tax-incremental financing.

Also earmarked are an unspecified amount for preliminary engineering on expanding Kenosha's streetcar system and $750,000 for environmental studies on commuter rail or streetcar lines in Madison. The Kenosha project would add 3.4 miles to what is now a 1-mile line, while the Madison project has been mired in disagreements between commuter rail and light rail backers.

I'm sure that last development will not please some observers.

What's the handling charge?
In addition to the highway and transit formula money, the bill sends more than $480 million to Wisconsin for specific projects. By contrast, a single congressional district in Illinois - the northwest suburban Chicago area represented by Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert - captured some $200 million.
And thus the title of the post.

Despite the uncertainty about Amtrak's future, an upgrade of the Empire Builder will roll out on August 22.


"No, my name is not Hiawatha, and this is not a Super Dome."


The redecoration is intriguing.
Inside the cars, the walls and surfaces have been updated with a frosty white and navy blue color scheme, accented by cherry wood grain laminate and cushions, carpets and drapes in matching shades of blue.
Wood grain panelling ... very Milwaukee Road. But Minnesota cheeses? [cough]
First-class passengers will be treated to service enhancements including an onboard wine and cheese tasting event in the lounge car featuring Minnesota cheeses and Washington state wines.
And a little history of that "upstairs snack bar" to be available during peak travel times. Note the pelt on the shelf in the lower left of the picture. That shelf is the location of the "upstairs snack bar," an as-built feature of the Sightseer Lounges that lost its attendant as one of the periodic economy measures.

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