Hotline #807 -- April 19, 2013

In advance of the NARP Spring Council Meeting in Washington, D.C., we will be offering an abridged version of the NARP Hotline. Thank you for your loyal readership. –The NARP Staff

 

—In response to the ongoing manhunt for the second suspect in the Boston marathon bombings, Amtrak has suspended train service in the Boston area.

Acela Express and Northeast Regional are terminating at New York Penn Station; service south of New York City is operating normally.  Downeaster continues to operate a modified schedule, with no service to Boston.

Check Amtrak.com for the most up-to-date information. [CBS News - New York]

 

—Amtrak’s chief warned the Senate Committee on Surface Transportation of an investment crisis facing the Northeast Corridor, explaining that the railroad will not be able to meet rising public demand for trains unless the funding model is fundamentally changed.

“We have pushed the current NEC infrastructure about as far as it can go, but the end of demand and growth is nowhere in sight. A new model for investment is needed. If we do not obtain one, the outlook for the system’s capacity and condition is grim,” said Amtrak’s President & CEO Joseph Boardman.  He went on to add “The investment to realize these plans will have to come from a variety of sources, principally federal, but states and cities in the region will also have to play a part. Private financing will need to play a role, too, but these contributions will only be truly possible once the public sector has committed to this project.”

Boardman’s comments are timely, because the NEC Future planning group released its Preliminary Alternatives Report earlier this month, outlining 15 preliminary alternatives presenting a range of possible levels of future service for the NEC.

The alternatives range from modest capital investment and service improvements, to ambitious investment resulting in world class high speed rail and robust regional service. [Amtrak][NEC Future]

—As Texas and Oklahoma officials consider the development of the passenger rail corridor connecting Oklahoma City, Forth Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin (along with intermediate communities), NARP is encouraging members of the public to reach out to their transportation officials and express the need for the Heartland Flyer to connect to Wichita, Kansas.

The April 18 Wichita Eagle report on the TX/OK study included this: “‘What this says is that Texas is once again not sitting idle and is taking a leadership role in expanding passenger rail,’ said Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner, who is leading the city’s efforts.

“Lindsay Douglas, chief of governmental affairs for KDOT, said the Texas-Oklahoma study brings the need for a passenger rail partnership between Kansas and Oklahoma into more focus, as the Sooner State considers a more northern route or a possible northeast route into Tulsa that would bypass Kansas and Wichita.”

Comments can be submitted online to the Texas Department of Transportation. [TxDOT]

 

—All Aboard Florida and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced a series of Public Scoping Meetings this week to help draft an Environmental Impact Statement for the 235-mile passenger rail service that will connect Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Miami.

These open houses will allow the public to bring up concerns about the potential environmental and related impacts of construction and operating the intercity passenger rail service proposed by All Aboard Florida. The meetings will take place May 1 in Orlando, May 6 in Miami, May 7 in West Palm Beach, and May 9 in Fort Pierce. [All Aboard Florida]

 

—Good news came to California’s rail advocates this week when the accepted bid for constructing the initial segment of the Los Angeles – San Francisco high speed rail system came in well under budget.

A consortium of U.S. companies (Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction Corp. of Texas and Parsons Corp. of Pasadena) submitted a bid for $985 million to construct a 28-mile segment of track between Madera and Fresno.  Planning estimates predicted the segment would cost between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion. [Merced Sun-Star]

 

—The Utah Transit Authority opened its new TRAX extension on April 13, connecting downtown Salt Lake City to the Salt Lake International Airport by light rail.

“We need to grow our mass transit in order to grow our businesses," said Governor Gary Herbert at the line’s public unveiling. "It’s going to be such a benefit to all of us... With this line, we will see the revitalization of the west side of Salt Lake City and the businesses along North Temple.” [Salt Lake Tribune]

 

—The West Virginia House of Delegates passed the Commuter Rail Access Act, directing the West Virginia Rail Authority to negotiate an agreement with the Maryland Transit Administration to help fund operations of MARC commuter rail service in the state (currently, West Virginia does not contribute financially to operations on the Brunswick line). The bill also establishes a Commuter Rail Access Fund.

“It's a groundbreaking piece of legislation in two senses. One, it's new, it's never been done before in West Virginia, and two, it's a start, but only a start,” said NARP West Virginian Representative J. Charles Riecks. “At its essence, it has West Virginia saying to Maryland, ‘we have to talk.’ It basically is a good start, but it requires follow-through and it requires funding.” [Martinsburg Journal]

 

The California High-Speed Rail Authority will pay $4 million into an agriculture preservation fund to settle a lawsuit filed by the Madera County Farm Bureau.

“This settlement clears the way for the Authority to move forward with construction of the first high-speed rail system in the nation and shows we can build high-speed rail while preserving precious resources,” said CAHSRA Chairman Dan Richard. [Bloomberg News]

 

The Federal Transit Administration has approved the project development phase of a 2.6-mile extension to the Tempe, AZ, streetcar system.

"The streetcar in downtown Tempe serves as a critical connection to the existing transit system and provides additional mobility options for a community having a high demand for transit," said Valley Metro Vice Chair Shana Ellis. [Valley Metro]

 

The Director of the Rail Division at the Texas Department of Transportation William Glavin announced April 17 that he will be stepping down in June from the post he pioneered.

"Since his appointment, the Rail Division has moved at lightning speed with plans and projects for both freight and passenger rail, compared to the last several decades," said Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody.  Mr. Glavin has brought a new level of awareness to both our elected officials and the public for the need for improving our rail system in Texas." [Star-Telegram]

 

Passenger Advisory

— Amtrak’s Auto Train (Lorton – Sanford) is now allowing passengers to purchase Priority Vehicle Offloading. [Amtrak]

—San Diego’s Coaster commuter train will suspend service this weekend to allow crews to perform upgrades to tracks that will result in improved speed and service reliability. [U-T San Diego]

—The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) announced April 15 that Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor trains will have completed upgrades to 4G technology that will give passengers access too faster on-board Wi-Fi. [Progressive Railroading]