Hotline #794 -- January 18, 2013

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood talked up passenger rail twice at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting.  At an all-day high-speed rail session on Sunday, January 13, he said, “One person deserves the most credit for pushing HSR – President Obama. The common denominator in every country I’ve visited is: commitment by the national government.  This is the President’s vision and will be his legacy.  A week after the election, the one thing he talked about with me is High Speed Rail: how do we keep the momentum?”  To the audience, LaHood said, “I congratulate every one of you. I know many of you have been working on passenger rail for years.”

He also spoke at a TRB luncheon January 16. 

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo opened the Sunday morning session with some comments about young people and their different attitudes towards transportation. In the eight years from 2001, young people reduced driving by 23% and increased their use of transit and trains and bicycling by 40%. He then introduced Secretary LaHood.

Following up LaHood’s praise of pro-rail governors, California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) Chairman Dan Richard said that, when Gov. Jerry Brown was elected, “everybody including his political advisers told him to walk away from HSR. He had the opportunity to walk away but he decided to stay with it, saying ‘I would like to be part ofAmericathat thinks big.’”  Richard also said CJSRA plans “to break ground in July.”    

Among the other presenters at the January 13 session: Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director and NARP Board Member Richard Harnish.  He showed a map with all the Midwestroutes where different interests want passenger trains. “I used to call this our vision. Now I call this a collected wish list – [because it underlines that] other people have said they want this. … I think the improvements in southernIowa that BNSF andIowa cooperated on should be the model for long-distance train infrastructure investment.”

An edited version of the Sunday session will be available soon, if not already, on the web site of the Mineta Transportation Insitute and other organizations.

 

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is joining forces with Amtrak to request information from train manufacturers on new high-speed rail equipment capable of 220 mph speeds, an important step in launching cutting-edge passenger train service on both coasts.

“This is about investing in 21st Century state-of-the art high-speed rail,” said California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales. “We are pleased to join with Amtrak and look forward to continued collaboration in the future. This is a natural fit since Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor andCaliforniawill be the bookends for American high-speed rail.”

California, in conjunction with Amtrak, formally issued a Request for Information (RFI) today. Californiaplans an initial order of 27 high-speed train sets, while Amtrak is looking to acquire 12 new high-speed train sets to supplement current Acela Express service (eventually replacing the 20 current Acela train sets early in the 2020s).  Initial estimates put the cost at $35 million to $55 million per train set.   However, a joint procurement will create a bigger order, helping to drive down costs.  Amtrak says that a Request for Proposal could be issued by September 2013, with an order placed during 2014.

“High-speed rail is right forAmericaand Amtrak working withCaliforniato advance both our programs makes a lot of sense,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “For Amtrak, new high-speed train sets on the NEC means more seats, more frequent high-speed service and an ability to take advantage of higher speeds as the infrastructure is improved.”

These procurements should help build the foundation for a modern, domestic passenger rail equipment manufacturing industry, which could then grow to compete in foreign markets.

NARP issued a release praising the decision:

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) applauds yesterday’s announcement by Amtrak of a joint procurement effort with the state ofCaliforniafor next-generation high-speed trains.

NARP also supports Amtrak’s January 2 announcement that it intends to seek approval from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which regulates railroad safety, to expand capacity on its high-speed rail service in the Northeast with “lighter, faster equipment,” eventually replacing the Acela trainsets.  Such approval will be an integral part of the successful implementation of that joint procurement. 

The new equipment that Amtrak envisions would have many designs and components common with the newest, overseas high-speed trains, and a higher standard of crash energy management than older European high-speed trains.  The proposed equipment would be lighter than Acela.

NARP President Ross Capon said, “Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority deserve praise for their efforts to advance high-speed rail in theU.S.  We also are encouraged by FRA’s work regarding advanced equipment, including approval of intermixing standard European rolling stock and regular, ‘FRA-compliant’ passenger equipment on the San Francisco-San Jose commuter line.”

 

After a bipartisan campaign by Members of Congress representing the Northeast, the House of Representatives passed a $50.66 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package that includes $10.9 billion for repairs to public transit, and $118 million for Amtrak.

Of that $118 million, $86 million will go to capital expenses from the storm, and $32 million will cover operating losses incurred due to the hurricane. A total of $10.9 billion will go to repairs of the public transportation systems in theNew Yorkregion.

The amount is less than the $336 million for Amtrak included in a prior Senate proposal that expired at the end of 2012.  When the Senate returns, the body will have to decide whether to pass the House version as is, or do yet another version—Sen. Kerry (D-MA) already has indicated unhappiness with lack of a fishery provision in the House bill.

 

An analysis performed by the Tax Foundation found that user fees cover less than a third of the total state and local expenditures on roads in 2010.

The non-partisan tax research group broke down outlays and revenue for a wide array of modes:

Nationwide in 2010, state and local governments raised $37 billion in motor fuel taxes and $12 billion in tolls and non-fuel taxes, but spent $155 billion on highways.  In other words, highway user taxes and fees made up just 32 percent of state and local expenses on roads.  The rest was financed out of general revenues, including federal aid.

The ratios do not change much when adding in all transportation modes.  In 2010, state and local governments spent $60 billion on mass transit, $23 billion on air transportation facilities, $1.6 billion on parking facilities, and $5.3 billion in ports and water transportation, in turn raising $13 billion in mass transit fares, $18 billion in air transportation fees, $3.2 billion in parking fees and fines, and $3.8 billion in water transportation taxes and fees.  Altogether, states raised about 36 percent of their transportation spending from user taxes, fees, and other charges.

The analysis is a further debunking of the false notion that roads “pay for themselves,” underlining the absurdity of critics who expect passenger rail to be profitable. Furthermore, the study that government involvement is critical to maintaining and expanding transportation infrastructure.

You can read the full report here.

 

The National Transportation Safety Board reported that U.S. transportation deaths fell two percent in 2011 from the previous year.  Total transportation-related fatalities dropped to 34,434 in 2011, down from 35,043 in 2010.

As always,America’s road network accounted for the vast majority of deaths with 32,367 fatalities in 2011, down from 32,999 in 2010.  Passenger rail accounted for 759 transportation-related deaths in 2011, down from 823 in 2010.  Only six of those were passenger deaths, however, with most fatalities occurring from pedestrian incursions onto the tracks.

Rail:

Intercity—

 

 

 

 

   Trespassers and nontrespassers*

 

542

499

 

   Employees and contractors

 

23

24

 

   Passengers

 

3

6

 

Transit**—

 

 

 

 

Light, heavy, and commuter rail

 

255

230

 

Total, Rail

 

823

759

* Includes persons on railroad property without permission (trespassers) and with permission, such as repair personnel (nontrespassers). Does not include motor vehicle occupants killed at grade crossings.

** Data reported to Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Fatalities for commuter rail operations may also be reported to the FRA and may be included in the intercity railroad fatalities.

 

Californian Representative Jeff Denham (R) has been selected to head the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Rail and Pipelines.  Denham serves the Modesto area, and has been a vocal critic of California’s high-speed rail project.

The statement issued by Congressman Denham says he looks forward to working on “cost-effective and innovative approaches to passenger and freight rail services,” while reiterating his opposition to the 220 mph train that will run betweenLos AngelesandSan Francisco.

"I've obviously taken a very strong position about Californiahigh-speed rail and I'm going to continue do so," Denham told The Hill. "We'll have the ability to hold hearings, we'll have the rail reauthorization bill and different transportation funding measures. I don't want to see one more penny [go to theCalifornia high-speed rail] until they disclose who their private partners are."

Also yesterday, Politico’s Morning Transportation report had this with a (very slightly) softer edge:  “Denham said late Wednesday he plans to continue to try to improve by cutting costs and delays for the project, backed by the Obama administration and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.”

Denham’s new role came up at the Washington Union Station event announcing Amtrak andCalifornia’s plans for joint acquisition of high-speed rail equipment.  Amtrak President & CEO Joseph Boardman said that, while he doesn’t have any direct experience with the Californian Representative, he believes that a productive relationship is, in fact, possible.

 “There's a steep learning curve for the new chairman of the subcommittee and I think he's up to it,” said Boardman, who stressed that the Congressman needs to take a national view of the passenger and freight rail network.  “The more he's positive about having government be the major push in this process, the less cost there's going to be for the overall product in the end, just like there was for the highway system and the aviation system.”

 

Travelers Advisory

Amtrak announced that passengers with a Pacific Surfliner monthly pass can now take advantage of reduced fares when traveling to destinations between Oxnard and Oceanside.  And with the Rail2Rail program, those same monthly pass holders can also ride Metrolink trains for no additional charge when in the city pairs on the pass.

You can read more about the deal on Amtrak.com.

 

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) issued an advisory to help people navigate Monday’s swearing-in ceremony, including updates on how public transportation will be affected:

D.C.’s subway system will be running rush-hour service all day. Be prepared to wait for space on a train for long periods of time, during which you will have to stand in close proximity to several thousand people.  Many Metro escalators will be closed due to crowding and individuals will need to climb Metro stairs or wait to utilize the small number of elevators at Metro stations.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) plans to run Metrobuses on Inauguration Day.  Check its website for information regarding routes and schedules.  As with any other travel planning for January 21, please allow extra time and prepare a back-up plan.

Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and MARC (Maryland) Commuter Train will be operating reserved trains on special schedules and are expected to sell out well in advance of January 21.  Please visit their websites for more information

Amtrak announced it will be increasing service for the event to handle the spike in travel demand:

In preparation for travel to presidential inauguration activities in the nation’s capital, and to accommodate increased ticket sales, Amtrak is offering two additional Acela Express trains betweenNew York andWashington,D.C. on Monday, January 21.

Train 2201 will departNew Yorkat 6 a.m., arriving inWashingtonat 8:55 a.m., and train 2224 will departWashingtonat 6 p.m. arriving inNew Yorkat 8:55 p.m. Otherwise, due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Amtrak will be operating a typical Sunday schedule.

 

Weekend track work being performed north of Sanford by Central Florida Rail Corridor will affect Amtrak’s Silver Star and Silver Meteor trains in the coming weeks.

Trains 91, 92, 97 and 98 will be affected on January 25 and 26, and February 2, 3, 9 and 10.  Amtrak provided more information in a service advisory:

Trains 91 and 97, which originate inNew York, will terminate inJacksonvilleon the dates shown above. Bus service will be provided at all stations fromJacksonvilletoMiamiexcept stations shown below where service is cancelled.

Trains 92 and 98, which normally originate inMiami, will originate inJacksonvilleon the dates shown above. Bus service will be provided at all stations betweenMiamiandJacksonville, except those stations listed below where service is cancelled.

You can find out more on Amtrak.com’s Service Alerts page.