Elena Studier arrived at the 3rd floor WGLT studios by bike, rolling it off the elevator and down the hall. Not surprising since she's using her bike to explore communities located along passenger rail corridors across the country.
Studier is in day three of a 38-day journey, part of a semester long internship with the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
"We're exploring the interaction between bike and rail," said Studier, a sophomore at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "We're going to hit 18 U.S. cities."
One of her goals is to improve the way the passenger rail community tells its story in an era of decreased car use.
"It's not so much as the role needs to shift, but potentially the way we talk about it and the way we prioritize it," said Studier. "We know people are taking passenger rail. We know this is a need, but we need to make sure our elected representatives know this as well."
Like most transit services, along with roads and highways and airports, Amtrak receives a federal subsidy. The government covers almost all of Amtrak’s capital costs as well as more than 10 percent of its operating costs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2013, that amounted to $1.43 billion. The passenger railroad has carried more than 30-million passengers per year for the past five years.
Studier will spend as much time on the train getting to communities as she will on a bike exploring communities those communities. Part of her internship responsibilities to is to gather "first mile-last mile" data.
"People have to be able to get to the station, particular since so often they're in center-city," said Studier. "We want to talk about ease of access to them. We want to talk about how well transportation networks are integrated. If you can't get to the train station, you can't get on the train."
While in Normal, Studier toured by bike The Constitution Trail, which goes by Uptown Station. As part of her internship, she's also testing a new Amtrak service called "trainside checked bike service."
"Amtrak is rolling out a massive program that should be coming in early fall of this year," said Studier. "You won't have to box your bike anymore. On every segment I'm taking apart from two, I'm actually just hand my bike up to baggage loader."
Studier stressed it's still a preview service and Amtrak is still understanding how the system is functioning.
Studier also toured the West Bloomington Revitalization Project's Tool Library, on the Front Street bike corridor. Her next stop is Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
Editors Note: The reporter on this story, Mike McCurdy, is also the president of the bicycle advocacy group Bike BloNo.