Hotline #809 -- May 3, 2013

Amtrak celebrated another birthday on May 1, marking 42 years of carrying America’s passengers.

In observance of the day, Amtrak President & CEO Joseph Boardman took the U.S. Congress to task for failing to provide sufficient, predictable levels of investment, a political failing that has inhibited the maintenance and growth of the national passenger rail network:

As Amtrak celebrates its 42nd year as America's Railroad, we remain a vital part of the national transportation network and economy.  With record ridership and strong financial performance, Amtrak is successfully fulfilling its national mission and daily demonstrating its value to the country.

However, Amtrak has been underfunded and has too many conflicting missions with only year to year funding to plan, build and maintain safe infrastructure and provide national surface transportation mobility and connectivity. In addition, multiple layers of oversight have been added to what Congress intended to be a 'private' company that carries out public policy.

It is time for dedicated, multi-year federal operating and capital funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail.  Our customers and our nation have waited for 42 years too long already.

If Congress provides predictable and needed levels of federal funding support, Amtrak and our state partners can better deliver a future of improved reliability, enhanced capacity, more service, increased speeds and reduced trip times on the Northeast Corridor and other passenger rail corridors around the country, including the development of new ones.

 

President Obama has nominated Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to be the next U.S. Secretary of Transportation.  If confirmed by the Senate, Foxx will replace current Secretary Ray LaHood, who announced in January his intention to step down as soon as his successor was confirmed.

Secretary LaHood had kind words to say for his successor, outlining the Mayor’s transportation bona fides in the U.S. DOT’s Fastlane blog. 

“From runway improvements at the CharlotteDouglasInternationalAirport and the expanded LYNX light rail system to freight and passenger rail upgrades and redesigned intersections on Interstate 85, the City of Charlotte has been on the forefront of American transportation development,” wrote Secretary LaHood. “Since 2009, the City has made its largest-ever investments in transportation, including a new streetcar system. Much of that is due to Mayor Foxx's understanding that transportation is a backbone of how we live and a key driver of our economy.”

President Obama made sure to praise Secretary LaHood for his many years of service in his role as head of the U.S. DOT:

"Ray LaHood has said that being the secretary of transportation is the best job he ever had in public service. And that’s fitting because Ray may be the best secretary of transportation that the nation’s ever had.

“From the day that he was sworn in, Ray has fought tirelessly to rebuild America’s infrastructure—creating good jobs that strengthen our economy and allow us to better compete in the global economy.

"Over the past four years, thanks to Ray's leadership, we’ve built or improved more than 350,000 miles of road—enough to circle the world more than 14 times. We’ve upgraded more than 6,000 miles of rail—enough to go coast to coast and back. We’ve repaired or replaced more than 20,000 bridges, and helped put tens of thousands of construction workers back on the job. And that’s all due in no small part to Ray LaHood's leadership."

LaHood returned the praise, identifying the President’s vision for passenger rail in America as his greatest contribution to transportation policy.

"[President Obama is] going to have many legacies, but his transportation legacy will be high-speed rail," said LaHood. "Lincoln started the rail system in America. Obama has started high-speed rail."

 

Secretary Ray LaHood hasn’t let the announcement of his replacement slow down his work in promoting the benefits of investing in passenger trains.  On April 30th, the Secretary visited his home state of Illinois to take part in a groundbreaking for an expansion to a railcar manufacturing plan which will create 80 permanent new jobs. 

In a May 1 entry on the U.S. DOT’s Fastlane blog, LaHood highlights the economic growth that has attended investment in passenger rail.

In Rochelle, Illinois, Nippon Sharyo already has 250 men and women working at its railcar assembly plant. Yesterday, the manufacturer took the first step toward adding 80 more good jobs for American workers with the groundbreaking of a new metal fabrication and machining shop. 

Last November, I was in Rochelle with Governor Quinn to announce that Nippon Sharyo had been awarded a contract through the President’s High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program to build 130 new rail cars for California and the Midwest. Yesterday, I was thrilled to be back to help Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Nippon Sharyo Chairman Katsuyuki Ikushima celebrate this 330,000 square-foot expansion.

Nippon Sharyo's $54 million investment demonstrates what we've been saying for the past four years: investing in American rail is an investment in American jobs for American workers.

It is our Buy America program - requiring that all the components of the 130 railcars or any other rail project be built by US workers in US factories - that helped bring about yesterday's groundbreaking. By expanding their plant, Nippon Sharyo is proving to us that they’re 100 percent committed to meeting these standards. And that's not only good news for the 80 workers who will fill those new jobs, but also for the more than 200 potential suppliers and vendors the company has already identified in the Midwest alone.

And it’s not just the Midwest who benefits. Because we have railway suppliers in 49 states and Washington, DC, all of America benefits.

The 130 bi-level rail cars manufactured in Rochelle will be used on routes in the Midwest and California.

 

Following pressure by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), and a lawsuit filed by Amtrak, a federal judge will force the owners of Chicago’s Old Post Office to upgrade a ventilation system to prevent diesel fumes from filling Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak and Metra have been engaged in a struggle with the owners of the Old Post Office, who have failed to maintain the ducts and fans that move diesel exhaust from trains out of passenger waiting areas.  Rail officials are optimistic that the decision issued by a federal court will force ameliorative action.

"This is a great day for the 120,000-plus people who walk through Union Station each day," Joel Africk, president and chief executive of the Respiratory Health Association, told the Chicago Tribune. "Like second hand smoke, diesel exhaust is very harmful to the people who breathe it."

 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) released the Los Angeles Union Station Master Plan draft alternatives May 1, providing four visions for improving Los Angeles’ historic downtown train station.

“There's a real opportunity here to consider rethinking the entire area around Union Station, create a real district within this area that connects to L.A. River," said Nikolas Dando-Haenisch, an associate principal at Grimshaw Architects, a firm that participated in the conceptualization.

The Metro team released an explanatory statement, along with a series of potential designs:

Among some of the proposals are replacing the parking lots in front of the station with open space, building a new bus terminal to handle most of the considerable bus traffic at the station and possibly replacing the current transit plaza at the rear of the station with other structures and/or green space.

While all the alternatives will work without high-speed rail, they each offer a variety of ways that high-speed rail could access the station, including configurations in which the tracks are above the current platform, below grade at both the east and west of the current Union Station and running through the current City of Los Angeles Piper Tech facility.

That the historic Los Angeles Union Station built in 1939 is preserved and remains at the center of transit operations. The idea is to embellish the station so that it works as the region’s transit hub for many decades to come while better connecting it to the surrounding neighborhoods — i.e. Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Arts District, the Civic Center and Boyle Heights.  While the details are not developed yet at this stage, all of the alternatives will create improved pedestrian and bike pathways, including a bike lane through the site.

That high speed rail is a centerpiece in all four alternatives signals a strong commitment to the Los Angeles – San Francisco train, a project that will break ground this summer.

"The Authority is committed to working with Metro during the Los Angeles Union Station Master Planning process," said the California High Speed Rail Authority’s Michelle Boehm. "We have had several coordination meetings with them already and look forward to supporting their efforts to develop a plan that enhances transportation connectivity at the station."

Metro is looking for stakeholder input, and already held a public feedback session yesterday afternoon.

"I want to keep the architectural significance, beauty, and historic quality of Union Station while adding more features and amenities," said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition. "It's finally getting its due attention to become a gem of Los Angeles."

 

Iowa’s state Senate has reinserted language that would fund a passenger rail feasibility study to develop a Chicago – Quad Cities – Iowa City – Des Moines corridor, with a plan to ultimately connect to Omaha, Nebraska.

The State Senate Appropriations Committee approved $5.5 million in multimodal transportation funding over the next two years, pushing back against a House-led effort to strip the money from the budget.

“I hope it sends a strong signal to the feds that we’re committed to passenger rail and I hope that the House can go along with this,” State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) told the Sioux City Journal.

The differences will be hammered out in a reconciliation conference with members from both bodies.

 

Long-time train advocate and Amtrak employee John Mills passed away this week. 

During a long Amtrak career, Mills served many roles, including quality control oversight for production of Amtrak’s Bombardier-built Superliner II cars. 

Mills also testified before the House authorizing subcommittee in November, 1971, at a hearing on “Review and Refunding of Rail Passenger Service Act.”  He strongly advocated the return of the Texas Eagle and service to Arkansas.  He noted that “the Texas Eagle service…was the primary source of passengers for the connecting trains to and from St. Louis, as late as 1968-69.”  He also discussed railway post offices, and their discontinuance in part due to unreliable service by the railroads.  Reps. Brock Adams (D-WA; later USDOT Secretary) and Joe Skubitz (R-KS, ranking subcommittee member) asked John questions after he gave his testimony.  The record also includes a followup letter from John.  He noted that Texas allowing discontinuance of the Texas Eagle beyond Texarkana “had a death dealing effect on the remaining portions of this service that operated between St. Louis, through Arkansas to Texarkana…The last portion removed south of Texarkana took place a little over 30 days before President Nixon signed into law the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970.”

NARP President & CEO Ross Capon said John Mills was “a great man.  Working with him was one of the true privileges of this job.  I’m grateful that I was able to visit with him in Kansas City after the meeting where I spoke in April, 2012.”

John’s family will be holding a 1:00 PM visitation this Saturday, May 4, with a 2:00 PM service Saturday at the Griffin Leggett Funeral Home & Memorial Park.

 

Travelers Advisory

—The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority started running two express trains along the Worcester-Framingham Line between Worcester's Union Station and Boston's South Station on April 29.