We should all be pleased that the people of Waterloo (and its neighbor Fort Wayne) are going to have such a pleasant environment in which to wait for their trains or their arriving relatives, but at what cost? Amtrak is spending more than $66,000 per passenger to improve Waterloo. If it were to invest in Chicago Union Station at the same rate the spend would be nearly $80 million (which still would be only about 10 per cent of what this obsolete and mis-engineered station needs in order to function).Neither the commentary nor the local newspaper grasp the significance of this improvement.
The project will replace an existing bus stop-style shelter at the Amtrak stop in Waterloo – which currently consists of metal and Plexiglas – by moving the town’s historic train depot closer to the station. The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the town of Waterloo a $1.8 million grant in 2010 to put toward building the new station, and in 2012, the town was awarded an additional $4.4 million from Amtrak.A proper waiting room, rather than a bus shelter, is a good thing. An electronic status board (something that German city bus riders expect at the Haltestelle) to keep passengers advised of the latest delays to the Capitol and Lake Shore is also a good thing.
That funding would have helped accommodate a request from Norfolk Southern – which shares the line with Amtrak – to include two passenger boarding platforms west of Center Street.
But that money is going to benefit passengers throughout the Amtrak network, as platforms on both tracks will help Norfolk Southern maintain a current of traffic along the old Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. If the carriers can cooperate, there may not have to be protracted litigation to keep the trains moving. On my October trip east, I was asleep from east of South Bend to Beaver Falls, and thus couldn't observe what dispatchers had to do to properly platform the trains. The east coast trains are all on the Elkhart to Cleveland trackage simultaneously (barring late running for any number of reasons). But there's only one platform at Elkhart and Waterloo, and east of Toledo the Sandusky platform is on the north track and the Elyria platform on the south track. Thus, the passenger trains must cross, repeatedly, the paths of the opposing passenger trains, and be threaded through the stream of freight trains. Additional directional running would be desirable. Platform tracks off the main line, more so, but that might be asking too much.