Decades ago, the chairman of New York Central Railroad complained that while freight could move cross country without being transferred from one boxcar to another, transcontinental passengers often had to change trains in Chicago.

Even today, on Amtrak, passengers must change trains in Chicago.

A similar complaint is heard regarding intermodal passenger transportation — the separation of terminals for train and motor coach transportation. In Washington, D.C., for example, an intercity bus terminal is blocks from Union Station, which hosts Amtrak and commuter rail.

In St. Paul, Minn., the intermodal passenger problem is being solved.

The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority has broken ground on a $243 million multi-modal transportation facility in St. Paul, reports

The city’s 1920s-era Union Depot train station is slated to bring together rail, bus, motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic by 2012, reports Local, state and federal funds are financing the project.

Amtrak intends to dispatch its Empire Builder through the renovated terminal, which will also serve as a transfer point for light-rail, Metro Transit and intercity bus service — and, eventually, be a hub for hoped-for high-speed trains between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

Rail traffic continued its torrid growth the first week of 2011, with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reporting freight carloadings were up more than 20 percent versus the same week in 2010, and intermodal (trailers and containers on flat cars) were up almost 9 percent from the first week of 2010.

This comes on the heels of a banner year for freight railroads in 2010. The AAR said the combined increase in total annual carloads and intermodal in 2010 was equivalent to some 20,000 additional trains moving when compared with 2009.

U.S. Class I railroad traffic continued its growth trend through the Christmas holiday week, reports the Association of American Railroads.

Carloads were up almost 30 percent versus the same holiday week in 2009, and intermodal (trailers and containers on flat cars) was up more than 25 percent versus the same holiday week in 2009.

The AAR reported that for the first 51 weeks of 2010, carloads are up more than 7 percent and intermodal is up more than 14 percent over the first 51 weeks of 2009.

Iowa Interstate Railroad and Amtrak are intending jointly to launch conventional-speed (79 mph) passenger service between Chicago and Iowa City over a previously abandoned rail line, reports

The proposed service, reported, has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, but is not expected to begin prior to 2013. quoted Iowa Interstate CEO Dennis Miller that the railroad has “spent many hours working with local community leaders, the states of Iowa and Illinois, and Amtrak to make sure that if this service was approved, we could handle it in conjunction with our existing and growing freight business.”

Perhaps contradicting many Class I freight CEOs — who are cool about expanding passenger service over freight railroad track — Iowa Interstate Chairman Henry Posner III, a former Conrail executive, was quoted by that, “The lesson here is that a healthy freight network is the single most important building block for passenger service.”

Railroads are ordering considerably more freight cars than in previous months, according to the Railway Supply Institute – another indication of the strength of rail carloadings and the rails’ economic optimism going forward.

The number of new freight cars on order for delivery has climbed to more than 19,000 – an 85 percent increase in orders for new freight cars since Dec. 31, 2009, according to Railway Supply Institute data.

During the third quarter 2010, according to the Railway Supply Institute, railroads ordered more than 9,000 new freight cars — almost the total ordered during the first six months of 2010.