U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx hit the road this week to raise awareness of the looming infrastructure crisis that threatens our mobility and the U.S. economy.
A highlight of the tour was a stop in Charleston, South Carolina, where Foxx—along with special guest Vice President Joe Biden—called for Congress to provide $28.5 billion in dedicated funding for passenger trains over the next six years.
“Transportation projects have stalled or stopped across the country due to the lack of funding certainty,” said Secretary Foxx. “Passenger rail is critical to a growing economy—it brings economic development, creates jobs and provides access to opportunity for residents in the surrounding community.”
“The need for these investments is clear,” said the Secretary on the department’s blog. “Earlier this month, U.S. DOT released a landmark study, “Beyond Traffic” that looked at the trends and choices facing America’s transportation over the next three decades. These included a rapidly growing population, increasing freight volume, demographic shifts in rural and urban areas, and a transportation system that’s facing more frequent extreme weather events. A key takeaway of the study is that we need to keep investing in transportation for the sake of future generations.”
NARP President Jim Mathews was in attendance at the tour’s conclusion in Washington Union Station, where Secretary Foxx was joined by Amtrak President Joe Boardman and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“Secretary Foxx asked each person in the room to spread the message about how important passenger rail investment is to the U.S. economy; to tell 100 people to speak to their members of congress and demand a sensible plan for fixing our broken infrastructure,” said Mathews. “I know NARP’s 28,000 members can do the Secretary a few thousand better.”
Act now and tell your Representative to provide dedicated funding for a modern rail system!
Illinois Governor Rauner announced a budget on February 18 that includes major reductions in funding for Amtrak and Metra—including a $16 million cut to state-supported Amtrak operations.
The proposed budget would cut operating funding for Illinois’ Amtrak services from $42 million to $26 million—a nearly 40% reduction. That budget would not only hurt proposed expansions, such as the Quad City-Chicago corridor currently under development, but threaten existing services.
Governor Rauner’s budget also slashes at funding for transit and commuter rail. In addition to top-line cuts, Rauner’s proposal takes aim at special programs, such as reimbursements to provide reduced-fare rides for seniors and passengers with disabilities.
"Our preliminary analysis shows that the proposed transit-funding cuts of more than $105 million would have a significant negative impact on CTA's operating budget," said the Chicago Transit Authority.
These cuts will weaken Illinois. High-quality transportation gives us a major competitive advantage in a globalized economy. By reducing service—when it should be growing—Rauner is threatening Illinois' economic future. However, this budget is just a proposal. That means if we are loud enough, we have the power to change Governor Rauner's mind—or convince the General Assembly could stop these cuts—before Illinois' train service is gutted.
If you live in Illinois: NARP needs your help to let Governor Rauner and your elected representatives know you won’t stand for these cuts!
The city of Oxford, Ohio announced that it will be partnering with Miami University and Butler County Regional Transit Authority to secure a federal grant to study restoring Amtrak service to the town.
The city had previously asked Amtrak to examine adding an Oxford stop to the Cardinal but the railroad declined. Oxford officials will submit a grant request to the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program to study the costs and benefits of bringing trains back to the college-town.
“We think the time is good for us to request once again to request they consider a feasibility study for a stop here in Oxford,” said City Manager Douglas Elliott. “We’ll be submitting a letter to Amtrak regarding that.”
Miami University enrolls approximately 24,000 students, and school officials believe that connecting the campus to the national rail network would greatly enhance the connectivity of its student body.
“As a university that attracts students from Ohio as well as throughout the U.S. and around the world, we support an initiative that would provide expanded travel options for Miami students,” said Susan Schaurer, the interim director of admission at Miami University. “Miami has a strong presence in the Midwest—the 10 top non-Ohio high schools with the largest number of applicants for fall 2014 were from the Chicagoland area—so having this option available for prospective and current students would be a helpful asset to the University.”
A CSX freight train carrying crude oil derailed in rural West Virginia on February 16, igniting an explosion and spilling oil into a nearby creek. While there were fortunately no injuries, the incident has lent volume to calls for greater policing of oil-by-rail shipments congesting the nation’s rail system.
Of the 109 oil tank cars the CSX train was hauling, 27 derailed; 19 of those were involved in fires. The train was operating in icy, snowy conditions, but safety officials haven’t pinpointed the cause of the derailment. The Federal Railroad Administration did reveal that the train was going 33 mph when the derailment occurred, well below the 50 mph speed limit.
"We can see from event recorders that the train was traveling below speed limit and starting to accelerate at time of derailment," said Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration.
A surge in oil-by-rail shipments flowing out of the Bakken region in North Dakota has led to a severe increase in rail congestion on the national network, along with a small number of high-profile accidents. Previous incidents have put pressure on the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue new rules, with recommendations ranging from improved rail tank cars to revised speed limits. While freight rail representatives have stressed that oil-by-rail is safe—especially compared to the alternative: long haul tanker trucks operating over highways—industry analysts say these kinds of publicity-grabbing disasters are likely to force regulatory action. That conclusion was supported by statements made by the National Transportation Safety Board shortly after the accident.
“This accident is another reminder of the need to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said NTSB acting chairman Christopher Hart. “If we identify any new safety concerns as a result of this derailment, the board will act expeditiously to issue new safety recommendations.”
Amtrak passengers have also been hit hard by delays, especially those traveling along Midwestern routes. NARP has responded with a Supreme Court Amicus Curiae brief, as well as advocating for policy changes in the upcoming reauthorization.
Washington State’s Sound Transit opened the new Tukwila station on February 18. The building will serve as an intermodal hub for train passengers, bus riders, and bicyclists throughout the region.
The station is served by the Amtrak Cascades train, local bus service, and the popular Sounder commuter rail, which carries over 13,000 passengers every weekday.
"Expanding our rail system is an important step toward building a strong foundation for long-term economic growth that will help families and businesses throughout Washington State," said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). "This station will continue to link communities throughout the region, support local businesses and help commuters every day."
Transportation and business leaders gathered in downtown Houston on February 18 to inaugurate light rail service at the new Central Station Main.
The station will serve light rail vehicles on Metropolitan Transit Authority’s METRO Rail Red Line. When MTA’s Green and Purple lines open in April 2015, the station will also connect passengers to businesses and services in the eastern and southeastern sections of Houston.
Train manufacturing giant Siemens revealed that they will be staging an event in on the steps of California’s state capitol building on February 25 and 26 to educate lawmakers on the benefits of high speed rail.
The event will include a full-scale mock up of a high-speed train set, along with tours on the future of transportation for interested participants.
Siemens has invested in establishing a manufacturing plant in Sacramento, where workers build everything from light rail vehicles to heavy electric locomotives for the Northeast Corridor. With California’s statewide high speed rail system picking up steam, and strong Buy America provisions put in place by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Siemens argues it is well placed to compete for future equipment bids.
"We are confident that with our proven global experience and technology in high speed rail, we can be a top contender," said Michael Cahill, president of Siemens Rolling Stock.
—Extreme cold and heavy snow accumulation has continued to wreak havoc on transportation across the Midwest and East Coast.
Amtrak was forced to operate on a special schedule throughout the week. Many commuter rail operators struggling with the cold featured reduced levels of service, including the embattled MBTA and Washington, D.C.’s Metro Rail system. Amtrak hopes to restore normal service by Sunday. However, another winter storm is expected to hit the East Coast this weekend.