Hotline #790 -- December 21, 2012

Negotiations continue on the Superstorm Sandy relief legislation, with Members of Congress from the affected areas fight back Republican efforts to reduce the funding of the bill, including an amendment that specifically targets passenger trains for cuts.

Debate has centered over a $60.4 billion package drafted by Senate Democrats, and $23.8 billion counterproposal put together by Senate Republicans.  The Republican version focuses almost exclusively on immediate aid, and doesn’t allow for any mitigation efforts.  That move was rejected by transportation officials from hard hit areas.

“If we [don't] get in funds we're not going to be able to make the repairs, and more importantly the mitigation improvements,” said Executive Director James Weinstein of NJ Transit at a hearing held by the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development. “That's going to make us vulnerable to the next storm. That's going to leave our system vulnerable for the next storm, and we've noticed now that we're getting 100-year storms every year.”

“No one is talking about a bridge to nowhere,” added Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Patrick Foye. “We're talking about restoring tunnels and bridges and train stations that service tens of millions of passengers a year.”

That message is not resonating with Republicans, though they admit there is a role for the federal government in responding to the havoc wreaked by Superstorm Sandy.

“We shouldn’t use this bill to speculate on what costs will be when will know what those are,” said Roy Blunt (R-MO), about the bill. “And at the same time I understand and appreciate that this is a disaster when we should step in.”

Some of the cuts have been targeted directly at transportation and passenger rail.  Republican Senators John McCain (AZ) and Tom Coburn (OK) collaborated on an amendment that would set a two year limit on funds designated for Amtrak, and limits the funds to those “expenses associated directly with Hurricane Sandy or Tropical Storm Sandy,” prohibiting expenditure on capital improvements or expenditures not directly associated with Hurricane Sandy.  That would significantly reduce the $336 million currently included for Amtrak recovery and resilience building.

The bill also includes $10.8 billion to rebuild public transit systems and strengthen transportation infrastructure to withstand future storms.

Votes are planned for this evening, with the Senate looking to force action that would allow for passage before the end of the year.  Senate Democrats are forcefully making their case, pointing to the speed with which past disaster legislation has passed, and future rounds of disaster relief.

“We’re hopeful because members will see that if they start putting new barriers in the way of disaster relief it could boomerang on them. Their region could be next,” said Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). “I am hopeful that at the end of the day, we will have the votes.”

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation finalized a $1.55 billion agreement with the City and County of Honolulu to build Hawaii’s first-ever rail transit system on December 19, clearing the way project that will aid commuters in one of the most congested cities in the nation, improve the mobility of Oahu’s residents and tourists, and create tens of thousands of construction-related jobs.

The announcement came mere days after the death of Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.  Senator Inouye was a recent recipient of the NARP Golden Spike Award for his support of passenger trains, particularly praising his staunch support for Honolulu rail transit.

[Read NARP Board Member Jim Loomis’ tribute to Senator Inouye on the NARP Blog]

“The Honolulu rail transit project, the first of its kind in the state, will bring new transit options to the growing region and create a modern transportation system that is built to last for future generations,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who .  “And though, sadly, Senator Inouye cannot be here with us today, this agreement is a testament to his tireless advocacy on behalf of his state and its people.”

Construction of the 20-mile rail line will create an estimated 10,000 jobs annually.  The line will feature 21 rail stations, connecting bustling education, economic, and activity centers in Honolulu, such as West Oahu, Pearl City, Aloha Stadium, Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Honolulu International Airport, downtown Honolulu, and Oahu’s largest shopping center.

“Hawaii’s first rail transit system will be a game-changer for the region because it will serve nearly 80 percent of Oahu’s total population, including thousands of workers who commute into Honolulu every day from West Oahu,” said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. “This historic project will cut commute times west of the city by more than 30 minutes each way, drastically improving the quality of life for residents who want to spend less time in their cars, more time with their families, and enjoy cleaner air.”

The project will cost an estimated $5.1 billion in total.  The FTA will provide $1.8 billion, including the recently announced $1.55 billion from the New Starts program.  The other $3.36 billion will come from local sources, including a half-percent General Excise and Use Tax surcharge paid by Oahu tourists, residents, and businesses.

 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued two Records of Decision (ROD) for the Chicago to St. Louis high performance passenger rail corridor.  With the project now eligible for federal funding, passengers along the corridor can now look forward to more work towards improving service reliability, increasing frequencies, and reducing trip times.

“This represents a major step forward, both for the State of Illinois and the Midwest as a whole,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Future enhancements to the Midwest Regional Rail Network will create jobs and strengthen the region’s manufacturing base in the future, all while giving travelers a better, faster rail experience.”

The decision selected a consolidated route along 10th Street through Springfield, and identified the Rock Island Corridor as the most efficient route between Joliet and Chicago.

“The decision shows that Illinois is a national model for how states and local municipalities can collaborate with the federal government and private rail partners to upgrade our transportation network, protect our environment and lay the groundwork for long-term job creation and economic prosperity,” said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D).

 

The privately run and financed Miami to Orlando passenger rail project cleared an important hurdle this week when it received a green light from the state to operate an inland segment, allowing All Aboard Florida to move ahead in developing the corridor.

The $1.5 billion rail project will be funded privately, and has enjoyed strong support from state and local officials.  However, state law required that the state open the operation of an inland segment up to competing bids before it could ok further development by All Aboard Florida.  The state announced this week that no other bids have been submitted, clearing the way for the project to move forward.

The rail corridor will connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando, with no intermediate stops.  Construction is expected to create around 6,000 new jobs in Florida, with an additional 400 permanent jobs in operation and maintenance.

 

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) affirmed a strong commitment and desire to connect Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to the Metro light rail system.

The group has reached out to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), announcing its commitment to set aside airport property for the establishment of a Metro light rail station, either adjacent to the airport terminal or connected to it by a people mover.

Transit advocates have identified the necessity of ensuring a “one seat ride” in future development, arguing the train should go directly to the terminals, rather than facilities that are several thousand feet away and require a transfer to an automated people mover.

LAWA says it will work in close coordination with Metro to identify the next steps in developing project level concepts and technical and environmental analyses.

 

The Sierra Club released its annual list of the “50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States,” highlighting passenger rail projects across the nation.

“Each year, America invests more than $200 billion in federal, state, and local tax dollars on transportation infrastructure—bridges and highways, aviation and waterways, public transit and sidewalks,” states the report.  “But too often transportation projects undermine the higher national goals of reducing oil consumption, increasing safety, improving public health, and saving local, state or federal government—and citizens—money.”

The analysis highlights transportation projects from across the U.S. that exemplify smart transportation investments, contrasting and comparing them to projects that move the country in the wrong direction.  The Sierra Club evaluated the project using five criteria: oil use impact, environmental impact, human health impact, economic impact, and land use impact.

Unsurprisingly, passenger rail projects score well in this holistic analysis.  Rail projects that were highlighted as the best in the nation include Tucson’s 4-mile SunLink streetcar system, electrification of the 149-mile Caltrain corridor in California’s Bay Area, and the Midwest high-speed rail development plan.

You can read the full list here, or peruse the map below.


View Smart Choices, Less Traffic: 50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States in a larger map

 

Amtrak was named an Industry Innovator by Climate Counts in recognition of its positive influence on energy consumption, emission reduction, and the environment.

“As a company and as America’s Railroad, Amtrak is committed to providing environmentally-sustainable and energy-efficient service across our national network,” said President and CEO Joe Boardman. “Amtrak is on the right path to balancing the nation’s travel and mobility needs with mitigating the impact of our operations on the environment.”

Climate Counts is an organization that scores the world's largest companies on their climate impact, looking to better inform consumers.  Climate Counts recognized Amtrak because, as passengers shift from automobile and airline travelers to passenger trains, they are taking part in a transportation mode that with greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

The group also applauded the railroad’s progress in “reducing fuel use through anti-idling practices for locomotives, aerodynamic improvements of rolling stock that reduce ‘drag,’ improved engineer training for more fuel-efficient locomotive operations, and a commitment to emerging green technology like equipping 80 percent of the Northeast Corridor electric locomotive fleet with regenerative brakes which can return power back to the electrical grid.”

 

Amtrak announced today that is has named Matt Hardison the new chief marketing and sales officer (CMSO) in the wake of the retirement of Emmett Fremaux.

As CMSO, Hardison is responsible for the full range of sales and customer service activities.  These responsibilities including field marketing, advertising, sales promotion, the Amtrak Guest Rewards loyalty program, market research and analysis, reservation sales, on-board systems, pricing and revenue management, eTicketing, and eCommerce.  Hardison will report directly to President and CEO Joe Boardman, effective immediately.

“Matt will provide the necessary leadership and continuous improvement of our business processes as we carry out the vision set forth in our Strategic Plan,” said Mr. Boardman.

Prior to joining Amtrak in 1999, Hardison served as vice president at the transportation and technology firm Hagler Bailly.  He began his time at the railroad as senior director of commercial partnerships, developing the Amtrak Guest Rewards program from the ground up.  For the past 10 years, he has acted as chief of sales distribution and customer service.  During this tenure, Hardison introduced Wi-Fi and eTicketing across much of the Amtrak network, and launched the much lauded “Julie” voice recognition system.

 

Travelers Advisory

-Crescent canceled between Atlanta & New Orleans Mondays through Thursdays Jan. 7 to Feb. 7, except Mon. Feb. 4 (NS’s annual trackwork exercise)

-Coast Starlight will no longer stop at Richmond, CA effective with the new timetable (Jan. 14’s Los Angeles and Seattle departures)

-An additional New York-Washington weekday Acela round-trip begins Jan. 28: The 5:20 PM Boston departure will run through to Washington (9:15 PM New York departure; 11:50 PM Washington arrival), and there will be a new 8 PM departure from Washington to New York (arriving 10:45). Reservations can be made now.