Hotline #756 - April 27, 2012

NARP had another successful Spring Council Meeting in Washington, D.C. this week.  The gathered NARP delegates heard from James Corless of Transportation For America; Stacy Cummings of the Federal Railroad Administration; and Matt Hardison, Joe McHugh, and Mario Bergeron of Amtrak (we'll have more coverage on that next week). 

Here’s an inventory of the things that kept the Council busy:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praises NARP Council's work

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo were the keynote speakers at NARP's annual Capitol Hill Reception on Tuesday. In his stirring speech, the Secretary credited Amtrak's survival and success in attracting record numbers of riders to NARP's tireless work "in the trenches" for 45 years. LaHood echoed these remarks in a post to his Fast Lane blog under this headline, “National Association of Railroad Passengers a strong partner for the future of American rail.”   Read More 

University of Illinois professor recognized for outstanding work in rail

NARP presented Professor Christopher Barkan with the Association’s Academic Award, for a career as an educator and a crusader for restoring railroad programs in universities generally.  Secretary LaHood made a point of congratulating Dr. Barkan on his work in his FastLane blog.  Read More

Golden Spike awarded to Inouye, Meehan

The Golden Spike Award was awarded to Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Representative Patrick Meehan (R-PA) for their support of Amtrak and rail transit.

Railroad safety award presented to trio of Amtrak engineers

The 2012 Dr. Gary Burch Memorial Safety Award was presented by the Burch family to three Amtrak employees for their groundbreaking work on the monitoring of track conditions, reducing the risk of accidents and derailments. 

The three members of Amtrak’s engineering department—Michael Trosino (Senior Director, Clearances, Inspections and Tests), Steven Chrismer (Principal Engineer Track Geometry), and Marty Perkins, Sr. (Rail Engineer Stress Management)—developed a method of measuring rail temperature to determine when heat slow orders are needed.  Read More

News Rundown

Given the extra work associated with our Council meeting and Capitol Hill reception, we are presenting the week’s news in a rundown format:

·         The Federal Railroad Administration announced a $551 million Request for Proposals (RFP) on April 23, to manufacture 130 new bi-level passenger rail cars—part of a groundbreaking, multi-state effort to jointly purchase standardized rail equipment to be used on Amtrak’s intercity routes in California, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, and potentially Iowa.  All, of course, made in America.

·         City commissioners in Newton, Kansas voted on April 24 to contribute up to $15,000 to a coalition working to ensure that Amtrak’s Southwest Chief keeps its current route, protecting service in the region.

·         The Biloxi City Council passed a resolution on April 24 to bring back Amtrak’s Sunset Limited. This Mississippi city hasn’t had intercity passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast Region in 2005, although CSX rebuilt the railroad “better than new” within a few months.

·         Starting July 1, Virginia Railway Express passengers will see a 3% increase in the cost of daily tickets and monthly passes.

·         Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Randy Hultgren (R-IL) announced yesterday that they are calling on their colleagues in the reconciliation committee to eliminate a provision in the Senate’s transportation reauthorization bill that some believe would effectively override the Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee standard of 125 mph, lowering it to 110 mph instead.  The bipartisan pair argues that “[m]aintaining the speed of 125 mph ensures that America’s passenger railroad system will be more modern, efficient and attractive to riders.”  There is concern that, even where routes do not plan to exceed 110 mph in the near future, the heavier, 110-mph locomotives will be less energy efficient, have slower acceleration, cause more wear on the track compared with new-design locomotives.  Also, any 110 mph locomotives purchased will last for decades and could hamper future efforts to run trains above 110.

·         A serious commuter train accident occurred in Amsterdam on April 21, injuring 117 passengers.  Somewhat miraculously, only one person was killed.  Investigators are still determining the cause.

·         In the wake of six rear-end train collisions in the U.S. over the past year, and a National Transportation Safety Board finding this week that the first one was caused by employee fatigue, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued “Safety Advisory 2012-02; Restricted Speed.”  It is on pages 24760-62 of the April 25 Federal Register.  The advisory includes detail on all six accidents.  Thankfully, none involved passenger trains.  However, they caused four employee fatalities, six employee injuries, and property damage exceeding $6 million.  The NTSB noted that Positive Train Control (PTC) could have prevented the April 17, 2011 collision between Emerson and Red Oak, Iowa; two BNSF crew members were asleep when their 130-car, 18,000-ton coal train rear-ended a 21-car train hauling maintenance equipment, and both employees were killed.  NARP has repeatedly complained that PTC is being installed in a manner that will not prevent restricted-speed rear-end collisions, an apparent violation of the law requiring PTC, though not of the FRA’s rule implementing PTC.

·         The Environmental Protection Agency announced a partnership with Amtrak which will better guarantee safe drinking water for the railroad’s passengers and crews, by enhanced monitoring of all drinking water systems on the company’s railcars, along with improved maintenance of water systems.

·         In preparation for heightened security surrounding the May 21-22 NATO Summit in Chicago—which is expected to disrupt commuter service in parts of the city—regional rail officials will survey passengers on the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's South Shore line next week, as part of an effort to gauge the most efficient ameliorative steps to take.

·         In other Chicago news, Amtrak is receiving a $300,000 grant to upgrade its Chicago train yard, an environmentally-friendly renovation that will decrease Amtrak's natural gas consumption, allowing the company to save millions of dollars every year.  The grant was provided by the state-funded Illinois Energy Now program.

·         In honor of the fifth anniversary of National Train Day, Amtrak is inviting train fans to share what they see and experience on their train journeys and enter the See More On A Train online contest.

·         Amtrak announced it will create a new Emergency Management and Corporate Security department to bring company-wide emergency and security work under a single umbrella, allowing the railroad to better prepare for emergencies and disasters, and providing more efficient response and recovery efforts.

·         Amtrak celebrated National Park Week (April 21 – 29) by relaunching AmtrakToParks.comThe site features an improved trip planner, browser function, and added multimedia. The site allows users to see the nearest Amtrak route to featured national park sites, as well as the nearest Amtrak station.