Hotline #796 -- February 1, 2013

NARP and the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association (MHSRA) unveiled Tuesday a revised version of our joint White Paper, “Long Distance Trains: A Foundation for American Mobility.” The original was released September 17, 2012.

Our goal with the paper is to transform the public image of long-distance trains, which is often colored by false stereotypes perpetuated by the popular culture. In reality, these trains serve multiple trip purposes in a single, highly-productive vehicle.

NARP is asking members to help get this paper into the hands of as many decision-makers, thought leaders and reporters as possible. Check out the entry for more on how.

 

The Senate cleared a $50.5 billion Hurricane Sandy aid package by a vote of 62-36 on January 28, directing much-needed funds to rail systems battered by last November’s storm.

The bill identifies $118 million for Amtrak, with $86 million to be used for capital repairs and infrastructure hardening, and $32 million to cover operational losses that resulted from the storm.  The Federal Transit Administration will receive $10.9 billion for emergency repairs to public transportation systems affected by Hurricane Sandy, and mitigation projects to prevent damage from future storm.  FTA’s Sandy money is a bit more than its regular funding for the nationwide transit program.

The bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on January 15.  House GOP members had balked over the original Senate-passed version  in December, letting the bill die in the waning days of the 112th Congress.  Pressure from a bipartisan group of Northeastern lawmakers made the difference.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), and Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy (D) issued a statement praising the Senate’s quick passage of the bill:

Our genuine thanks and gratitude goes out to the U.S. Senate for its thoughtful consideration and passage of the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief package. Despite the difficult path in getting to this moment, the Senate membership clearly recognized early on the urgency and necessity of approving the full aid package and its importance in rebuilding our battered infrastructure and getting our millions of affected residents back on their feet as quickly as possible.

President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on January 29.

 

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin unveiled a fiscal year 2014 state budget this week that includes support for the state’s popular Amtrak services and for restoring passenger rail service between Burlington and Rutland.

The budget will provide sufficient levels of operating support to continue the popular Vermonter, which has seen a 49 percent increase in ridership since 2000.  With the implementation of new funding guidelines mandated by the Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act, the amount that Vermont pays for the Amtrak service is set to increase on October 1 of this year.

The Governor’s budget also will include funding to restore passenger rail service to the Western Corridor between Rutland and Burlington.  That includes $5 million to restore signals on the corridor, reconstruct highway/rail crossings, and upgrade to continuously-welded rail for a smoother, faster ride. The Governor has also proposed $100,000 towards an engineering study of bridges along the Western Corridor.

“What’s most important is the governor has put this in his budget,” said State Representative Herb Russell, who serves on the Vermont State House Committee on Transportation, and is a board member on the Vermont Rail Action Network. “Rail is clearly a priority for this administration.”

The State Legislature will take up the Governor’s budget proposal in the coming weeks.  Click here to find your state representative and let them know you stand with the Governor in support of passenger trains.

 

Virginia’s General Assembly is set to vote on transportation funding as early as next week, with $50 million for passenger trains in question.  NARP is joining a coalition of local advocacy groups to organize public support of Virginia's Amtrak Northeast Regional trains

Two competing transportation funding proposals—one from Governor Bob McDonnell and one from State Senator John Watkins—are being discussed in Richmond.  Governor McDonnell’s plan has already cleared the House and Senate Finance Committees, which voted to endorse the plan yesterday.

Fortunately, both contain the $50 million in state funds needed to keep all of Virginia's Regionals running.  That includes those currently funded entirely by Amtrak, whose operation costs will transfer to the state on September 30, 2013, as required under the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

The Northeast Regional connects Lynchburg, Richmond, Hampton Roads and intermediate points to Washington,D.C. and the rest of the Northeast.  They are an increasingly important piece of the Commonwealth’s transportation network in a region choked by road congestion.

NARP is asking Virginian passengers to send the following message to their representatives:

“As you begin debating transportation, please support the passenger rail funding included in Governor McDonnell and Senator Watkins’ transportation packages. We need to secure $50 million annually for Virginia’s Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Fund or we are at risk of losing our Regional intercity passenger rail service starting this October.”

Click here to look up your representatives in Richmond and find how to contact them.

 

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that its fiscal year 2014 budget will include enough passenger rail funding to maintain existing Amtrak service in the face of a new federal law that shifts operating costs to states.

Governor Cuomo has proposed $44.3 million to maintain current levels of service following changes stipulated by the Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act, which goes into effect October 1, 2013.  That will ensure that the Empire Corridor keeps operating.

“The actual amount available to support services provided by Amtrak is still subject of ongoing negotiations,” said New York State Department of Transportation spokesman Beau Duffy. “A new arrangement is expected to be in effect at the start of the Federal fiscal year.”

The Governor’s plan will have to be passed by the State Legislature. Click here to find your state representative and let them know you stand with the Governor in support of passenger trains.

 

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this week he will be stepping down.  While the Secretary admitted he was "conflicted" about the decision, he revealed yesterday that he will not stay on for the remainder of President Obama's second term. 

NARP released a statement yesterday thanking Secretary LaHood for all that he has done to support passenger rail:

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has extended its warm thanks to Secretary Ray LaHood for his tireless work in advancing the cause of passenger trains in America.

LaHood, who announced today that he will be stepping down as head of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has been an energetic advocate for the improvement and expansion of America’s passenger train network, and an effective administrator of a groundbreaking High Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail program.  He successfully oversaw the distribution of $10.1 billion in rail funds, moving forward with 152 projects across the nation.  Currently, that money is being used to advance 43 construction projects in 17 states and the District of Columbia, creating jobs for Americans and laying the groundwork to allow American businesses to compete globally in the 21st century.

[Read full release]

LaHood has worked hand-in-hand with the advocacy community during his term as U.S. DOT head.  Speaking at NARP’s Reception on the Hill in 2012, the Secretary explicitly recognized the importance NARP’s Council and members have played in protecting passenger trains and laying the groundwork for a modern rail network:

“High-speed rail, passenger rail is coming toAmerica, thanks to a lot of your efforts. We’re partners in this. ... You are the ones that are going to make this happen.”

The Secretary also lamented the partisan tone that has infiltrated the discussion on passenger trains, calling many politicians out of touch with the transportation needs of Americans.

"As members of Congress understand that the people are way, way ahead of them on this—they are way ahead of most members, certainly on the Republican side, when it comes to high-speed rail, or walking and biking paths, or livable, sustainable communities, green energy—the people are so far ahead of the politicians on this—eventually it will catch up with them," he told the Huffington Post

"Because of the president's vision and because of the work of those of us here at DOT, we have come a long way,” LaHood added. “As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities."

LaHood says he will stay on at the DOT until a successor is confirmed.

 

The Atmore City Council approved a resolution supporting restoration of passenger train service to the Gulf Coast in a January 28 vote, with the Alabama town adding its voice to a growing chorus calling for passenger rail service to connect the communities between New Orleans and Florida.

TheGulfCoasthas been without passenger trains since Hurricane Katrina knocked out tracks used by Amtrak.  While the tracks were restored within a few months, Amtrak has yet to return service to the region. 

Mayor Sam Jones of nearby Mobile, Alabama has been one of the leading voices in the movement, joined in the fight by local NARP members.  Mayor Jones helped engineer the Atmore City Council’s resolution, which states: “Whereas Amtrak suspended all services on the eastern portion of the Sunset Limited service from New Orleans through Mobile, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Orlando… Now therefore be it resolved that the undersigned call for the return of the vital passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast.”

“Atmore is the official railroad greeting station for the State of Alabama by act of the legislature,” said Atmore Mayor Jim Staff. “Jerry Gehman worked hard several years ago to make that happen. If service is restored from New Orleans to Orlando, it will go through Atmore and turn south in Flomaton."

 

NARP released a statement commemorating New York City’s Grand Central Terminal’s 100th year:

The National Association of Railroad Passengers salutes Grand Central Terminal on its centennial, and thanks the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York State (MTA) for the work it has done to restore and maintain this treasured icon and transportation centerpiece. The Association stands ready to work with the MTA and other transportation stakeholders to assure that Grand Central continues to serve the traveling public for another hundred-plus years as a hub for the city, region and nation.

The full release can be read here.

 

The World Bank has released a paper stating that traditional methods of evaluating infrastructure fail to capture the significant economic benefits of high-speed rail service, and that a more comprehensive form of analysis should be given serious consideration.

The paper, High-Speed Rail, Regional Economics, and Urban Development in China, defines traditional economic evaluation of transportation projects as focused on direct costs and benefits related to travel, including user time savings, operator cost savings, and a limited set of externalities, such as accidents, noise, and air pollution.  The authors argue that there is an emerging consensus that “major transport investments may have significant impacts that are not well captured through conventional cost-benefit analysis.”

[Read more on the NARP Blog]

 

Travelers Advisory

Amtrak Trains 66 (Richmond to Newport News) and 67 (Newport News to Richmond) will be canceled Monday, February 4 and Tuesday, February 5, due to signal maintenance work being performed by CSX Transportation.  Concurrently, there will be delays on selected Northeast Regional trains.

Amtrak says bus service will be provided north and south betweenNewport News,Williamsburg,Richmond Main Streetand Richmond Staples Mill Road, where buses will connect to NEC trains.