American Public Transportation Association’s Stand Up For Transportation day was a rousing success, with events in hundreds of communities advocating for Congress to fulfill their duty and help build a truly 21st Century transportation system in America. The group also warned that congressional proposals to cut transit funding would cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars.
NARP was an official partner of the event, and helped advance the campaign to educate members of the public about the benefits of rail transit in creating better, more efficient, more economically vibrant communities.
“Yesterday was a huge success as more than 350 organizations from across the country in small, medium, and large communities participated in the Stand Up for Transportation Day, a grassroots local advocacy day,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “There were more than 150 community events with many elected officials, business, community, and transportation leaders, and public transit riders. Also, #standup4publictransportation was the third highest trending topic in the United States yesterday.”
NARP President & CEO Jim Mathews visited Denver this week and rode the RTD light rail to help amplify that message, which was echoed by the leadership of the transit agencies that are tasked with moving tens of millions of Americans every day.
“I was thrilled to see that people from all walks of life, in Denver and throughout America, came together to tell Congress that federal funding for public transportation is essential and they need to pass a long-term transportation bill,” said Phillip Washington, the CEO of Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD). “This is a national movement and we are not going away. Congress needs to act now to pass long-term, sustainable transportation funding.”
APTA also released a study showing that GOP proposals to cut federal funding for public transit would put $227 billion in economic activity at risk over a six year period.
Colorado’s passenger rail advocates secured a small but important victory this week: a move to earmark $1.5 million in the Colorado state assembly to keep the wick burning for the Chief this year in Colorado passed overwhelmingly April 8 by a voice vote.
It’s a quick pendulum swing for passengers. Just last week, the Senate declined to support the request in their version of the budget—but just barely: the vote was 18-17 against. That means the fight is not over. But it will be decided within the next week.
NARP members have already made a huge difference at the Capitol. Legislators have commented about how impressed they are by the number of calls and emails they have received. We have identified the three key legislators on the Joint Budget Committee who control the fate of the Southwest Chief. Can you help us with calls and emails today? We wouldn't be asking if this wasn't important.
NARP president Jim Mathews traveled to Colorado to aid in the grassroots organizing efforts to save the Chief:
“I was in Denver Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday supporting Jim Souby and the ColoRail team as they worked the issue, and I can tell you it was up and down for those three days. The money will help keep the Southwest Chief project moving, and supply matching money to align with efforts in other states and communities. It was crucial that the Chief be included in the Colorado House’s budget in order to keep things going. Souby and the ColoRail folks have done yeoman’s work.
“We have support on both the Republican and Democratic sides, and there seems to be genuine interest in, and receptivity to, the economic-development argument. There was broad agreement among everyone I talked with that rail can be an economic engine for Colorado and the whole region. Local lawmakers, MPOs, and business leaders are looking for detailed information on Amtrak service’s total economic contribution to the state…tourism dollars, dollars generated per individual trip, etc., apart from Amtrak’s $21 million footprint in the state of Colorado. To the extent that we at NARP can help facilitate that, we would be filling a real gap.
“I was there in part to lend support to a larger vision beyond saving the Chief, using the recent success of the Ski Train as a way not only to boost the Chief but to boost the practical prospects for a Front Range Rail corridor.”
The Texas state legislature’s Senate Committee on Transportation advanced a bill out of committee that could kill one of the most exciting rail projects in the U.S., as well as having a chilling effect on private sector infrastructure investment in Texas.
The Texas Central Railway (TCR) has raised private-sector funds to develop a high-speed train connection between Houston and Dallas. Groups opposing the project have been raising the specter of eminent domain to advance a bill that would hamstring TCR’s development of a corridor.
That message appears to have resonated with State Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), who introduced Senate Bill 1601, a proposal that would prohibit businesses developing high-speed rail projects from getting access to eminent domain authority.
However, investigations by the Texas Tribune found that hundreds of private companies currently have eminent domain authority. That number includes utility companies, telecommunications companies, pipeline companies—as well as dozens of railroads. TCR directly questioned this selective application of the law during the Austin hearing.
“All that we ask that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” said Texas Central Chairman and CEO Richard Lawless. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”
Peter LeCody, a member of the NARP Board and president of the Texas Rail Advocates, also testified against SB 1601. In his testimony, LeCody tried to dispel anti-rail misinformation being dispersed by groups opposing the corridor, which will be built along an existing electric utility corridor.
"The Senate bill unfairly singles out a private corporation that wants to invest billions of dollars in the Texas economy and create thousands of construction and permanent jobs with a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston," said LeCody. "I understand that many towns and counties along the way don't feel the love for the high-speed rail project. There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about the train which would offer a 90 minute ride from Dallas and Houston at speeds up to 205 miles per hour.”
"From what I understand, there will be no grade crossings to cause accidents because it will be a sealed corridor," added LeCody. "Texas Central has indicated that they would require a minimum amount of land along the electric utility corridor, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 acres along the 240 mile route. Since private money would be flowing into the project property owners would have a little more bargaining power on negotiations than they would if this was a government funded project with caps on acquiring right of way."
The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced an initial agreement on regulatory oversight for the Hoosier State train between Indianapolis and Chicago, clearing the way for Indiana to construct a long-term arrangement to continue operating the service:
INDOT issued a statement outlining the general scope of the understanding:
INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning met in Indianapolis with FRA staff last week to discuss the roles and responsibilities for providing safe passenger rail service. Indiana’s contracts would require Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings, separately, to comply with all Amtrak and FRA requirements. In addition, INDOT would designate a staff member responsible for overseeing contract compliance.
“INDOT and the FRA share the guiding principles of access to safe mobility,” Browning said. “Based on these guiding principles, we are both committed to a path toward continuing the Hoosier State service.”
INDOT plans to continue existing Amtrak Hoosier State service in the near term until agreements can be finalized with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific. Amtrak, FRA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections of Iowa Pacific equipment are ongoing.
“The Federal Railroad Administration is pleased to be partnering with INDOT as it finalizes its agreements with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific to continue the Hoosier State service,” said FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “We are confident that our joint commitment will help enable continued safe access for passengers between Indianapolis and Chicago. We look forward to continuing our productive discussion to reach a positive outcome with the State of Indiana.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the availability of $500 million in grants on April 2 as part of the seventh round of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.
"The TIGER program has funded innovative projects, sparked new partnerships, created intermodal connections and enabled hard-to-fund projects that are changing the face of communities all across the country," said Foxx.
The competitive grant program focuses on transportation projects that generate economic development and improve connectivity for both urban and rural communities. Historically, the grants have been particularly good for passenger rail—both because they target funds to improve vital intermodal connections, and because rail competes well with roads when evaluated within the framework of the cost-to-benefit ratio.
DOT is allowing stakeholders from all over the country to participate in the 2015 TIGER summit by streaming it online. To take part in the April 16 event, go here.
News in Brief
—Amtrak and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation (MBTA) are working to limit the service impacts of an April 4 lighting strike that sparked a fire at the Forest Hills Station south of Boston.
“We anticipate the delays passengers have been experiencing will be resolved in the next day or two as signals are restored,” a spokesperson for Keolis Commuter Services, the company that operates MBTA commuter trains, told the Boston Globe. “We will be talking to Amtrak to see if the restoration schedule can be expedited as we know this is causing our passengers a great deal of inconvenience.”
Complicating matters, the fire has damaged sensitive signal systems that will be difficult to repair.
“Lots of specialized work and unique material is needed to complete the project,” reported Amtrak. “It’s not just something you can go to a store and buy, so it takes longer… Every attempt will be made to minimize impacts to service.”
—Former NARP Director John Joseph Czyzewski passed away in his sleep at the age of 70. Born in Schenectady, New York, Czyzewski served in the Vietnam War as an intelligence officer, where he rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Bronze Star. A lifelong traveler, he served on NARP’s Board of Directors and played an influential role in developing Virginia’s passenger rail system as one of the cofounders of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons.
—Following concerned statements made by the passenger community following the suspension of the ability to book sleeper reservations on the Silver Star, Amtrak confirmed to NARP that it will not be removing sleepers from the service.
Amtrak will, however, be testing a new food service; an official announcement on the details of this change is coming early next week. The railroad will start taking reservations for sleepers again by next week.
—Starting Monday next week, Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) Metro trains will return to automatic operations for the first time since a deadly 2009 accident. WMATA officials are calling it a “a significant safety milestone,” and computer-controlled operations will help smooth operations and allow for greater efficiency.