Happening Now

Hotline #1,014

May 5, 2017

Congress Includes Funding for Transportation in New Bill; Amtrak Schedules 44 Days of Work at NY Penn Station; NARP Moves to New Office

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Congress passed an omnibus agreement yesterday that provides increased transportation funding—including Amtrak—for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017. The spending deal secured broad, bipartisan support in the House and the Senate this week, and is a resounding rejection of extreme spending cuts outlined by the White House in its proposed FY2018 budget.

Make no mistake, this is proof of the power of committed advocacy. Without the dedicated action of NARP members and the national passenger rail coalition over the past two months, increased investment in trains and transit would not have made the final deal.

“We are excited and happy to see that both Democrats and Republicans could come together to support this bill,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “This deal highlights that local communities and federal representatives are taking the future of transportation in our country seriously.”

With the deal passed out of both the House and the Senate, all that’s left is for President Trump to sign the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017” into law.

Other transit advocacy groups have come forward to express support for the new bill. APTA Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White stated, "This legislative action shows that Congress understands the value of public transportation and how it plays a critical role in the economy and in the lives of millions of Americans in communities of all sizes. If passed into law, these investment in public transportation will positively impact direct and indirect jobs all around the country."

Rail and transit details from the transportation section are outlined below.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION – The omnibus agreement includes $18.5 billion in FY2017 discretionary appropriations for the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – The bill provides $1.85 billion for the FRA, an increase of $173 million above the FY2016 enacted level, including:

  • $1.495 billion for Amtrak (an increase of $105 million over FY2016), including $328 million for the Northeast Corridor and $1.167 billion to support the National Network.
  • $98 million in rail grants to support the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) safety technology, make rail infrastructure improvements, and restore or enhance passenger rail service.
  • $258 million to support rail safety and research programs, including inspectors and safety personnel to help ensure the safety of passengers and local communities.
  • $98 million for FAST Act Rail Grants: for a full description of what these grant programs do, please refer to NARP’s section by section analysis of the FAST Act:
    • Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grants: $25 million for capital projects to bring existing assets into a state of good repair;
    • Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grants: $68 million for capital projects to improve rail corridors, with $10 million reserved for projects that “contribute to the initiation or restoration of intercity passenger rail service”;
    • Restoration and Enhancement Grants: $5 million for projects that restore and enhance passenger rail service.

TIGER Grants – $500 million for TIGER grants, equal to the FY2016 enacted level. TIGER grants are a popular program supporting innovative projects, including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional federal programs. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) – $12.4 billion in total budgetary resources for the FTA, including:

  • $9.3 billion for transit formula grants from the Highway Trust Fund (an increase of $753 million over FY2016).
  • $2.4 billion for Capital Investment Grants (“New Starts”), fully funding all current “Full Funding Grant Agreement” (FFGA) transit projects, as well supporting new projects anticipated to receive FFGA awards (an increase of $236 million over FY2016).
  • Notably, the bill directs the DOT to move ahead with specific FFGAs, including $150 million for Maryland’s Purple Line rail project, and $100 million for the Caltrain Peninsula Electrification project that the Trump Administration had indefinitely suspended.

Albert L. Papp, Jr., NARP Chair of the Northeast Corridor Task Force and a Councilman from New Jersey, commended New Jersey's Representative Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, for securing additional monies for Amtrak for FY2017. Papp met with the Congressman in his District Office in Morristown, N.J., as well as with his legislative staff in Washington in January 2017 and in conjunction with NARP's recent April 2017 "Day on the Hill" to stress the importance of appropriating all of the monies authorized in the bi-partisan FAST Act. He stressed the criticality of securing adequate funding for Amtrak's Gateway Project and repairs to Penn Station's interlocking plant to prevent an NEC reduction in passenger train services.

NARP Begins Office Move

This week, the NARP office move is underway. The space is nearly open and ready for members to visit. Starting next week, the offices will be a launching pad for advocacy activities.

Easily accessible from the Metro station and steps from Capitol Hill and the White House, the new offices offer a state-of-the-art conference space that will enhance the effectiveness of advocacy for passenger rail in America.

The 2,000-square-foot location at 1200 G Street, NW, Suite 240, is fully ADA-compliant so that members with mobility challenges will be able to use the offices with ease. The building also offers bike-friendly lockers and 24-hour security.

NARP will host a series of open houses for members in its Metro Center neighborhood in the months ahead.

Please stay tuned for more details regarding a planned ribbon-cutting ceremony.

With the approval of a new spending bill, several local passenger rail projects could receive funding and move forward with development.

A sample of projects include:

  • The Southwest light-rail line in Minnesota was approved for $10 million. Without the federal money, it is unlikely that Southwest line could move forward.
  • The Sacramento Streetcar was included for $50 million. The federal funding is contingent on a vote this June of property owners near the proposed line in downtown Sacramento, as well as a formal contract agreement between local officials and the Federal Transit Administration later this year.
  • The Orange County Streetcar would receive $50 million. Now in the design and engineering phase, the 4.1-mile “OC Streetcar” will run from Santa Ana to Garden Grove, CA. Up to six streetcars are planned to run along the route, which will includes 10 stations.
  • The Caltrain electrification project would be allowed $100 million. Previously, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao derailed a $647 million federal grant that Caltrain had been counting on. Fourteen Republican lawmakers from California asked that funds be held up, in an apparent bid to halt the related-but-separate high-speed rail plan.

Should President Trump sign the bill, Congress will avoid a government shutdown until at least September, when funding would next run out.

Public support is a crucial factor that agencies and the federal government weigh when making important choices on transit projects. A new poll by Quinnipiac University revealed that an overwhelming majority of New Jersey voters want the Hudson River rail tunnel project. Overall, 54 percent of voters said the tunnel linking New York and New Jersey is "very important," and 31 percent say it is "somewhat important."

According to researches, these number stand out more than normal as only 13 percent of the respondents said they commute into New York City. In addition, only seven percent said the project is "not so important" and just four percent say it’s "not important at all."

If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, NOW is the perfect time to get involved as decisions get made about rail budgets in Washington!

NARP is providing you with the tools, but we need your help doing these three things:

  1. Meet with your in-district staff contacts for all three congressional representatives (one representative, two senators), either in-person or over the phone, to ask them to support an infrastructure bill
  2. Importantly: communicate significant points of agreement, disagreement, and intelligence back to NARP staff
  3. Post a photo of yourself visiting + calling your Members of Congress, and post it online (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) using the tag #MyTrainMyTown and #AConnectedAmerica (or email it to us at NARP[@]narprail.org, subject line "My Town, My Train")

To access more advocacy resources, including NARP’s Guide to Engagement, click here.

Following the announcement from Congress on the new spending bill, the Trump administration restated its desire to release a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. The commitment was made by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who stated that President Trump has been working on the plan, “with both his economic and policy team,” but has also been focused on the new bill and healthcare reform.

Though no concrete details have been laid out in how to fund the infrastructure plan, Trump expressed interest in raising taxes to help pay for transportation infrastructure projects. Trump noted that his tax overhaul proposal from April is a starting point for negotiations on the topic.

NARP previously submitted a list of “shovel ready” rail projects to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (see a short version of the list here). It will be important to continue pressing the administration to develop a plan that will help rebuild the country’s railways, as well as roads and bridges, whether it’s through a new tax plan or private investors.

Congratulations to George Chilson of San Diego, CA, Charles Hamilton of Seattle, WA, and Phillip Streby of Peru, IN, on their election as Directors on the NARP Board. These positions are for three-year terms through April 2020.

Congratulations also to Ron Kaminkow of Reno, NV, Kevin Mock of Camp Hill, PA, and Jonathan Nelson of North Miami, FL, on their recent appointment to the NARP Council of Representatives from their respective states.

Although Amtrak has not officially announced the timeline of its upgrade plans for Penn Station in New York, documents obtained by Bloomberg reveal that work will take place between Jul. 7 to Jul. 25 and from Aug. 4 to Aug. 28. The scheduled 44 days of work have some of the 600,000 riders who travel through Penn Station concerned that the work will cause major issues on weekdays for those who ride Amtrak, NJ Transit, and LIRR trains. Senator Bob Gordon, a Democrat from Fair Lawn, NJ, also expressed concern. “Why not schedule some of the work for the last week of August when so many people take off from work heading into Labor Day weekend?,” he asked.

NARP fully understands that the repair work at Penn Station will cause disruption over the summer months, but also that the work is critical to the future of Penn Station and the NEC, and it cannot be put off anymore. Repairs and upgrades to Penn Station will result in a new sense of safety and reliability that can be expanded upon throughout the national rail network.

NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews previously emphasized that, “It cannot be stressed enough that the steps taken here by Amtrak will pay off for the future of our infrastructure. But Amtrak should not have to face this challenge alone, and it will be important for the Trump Administration to look closely at the issues Penn Station, and Amtrak as a whole faces, and make decisions that will bring connectivity and mobility to our nation.”

In addition to the repairs needed at Penn Station, the Northeast Corridor Commission estimates that the NEC will require $38 billion in maintenance and upgrades to remain in working condition over the next five years. The Commission would use the money towards a variety of projects between Boston and Washington, DC, including refurbishing signals and power systems, replacing bridges, and building a new Hudson River tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey. The estimates represents a 36 percent increase over last year, and it would be in addition to the $3.3 billion Amtrak and other railroads in the region have dedicated for the NEC.

Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, co-chairman of the commission noted, “The corridor’s aging infrastructure is already subject to service disruptions caused by infrastructure failures, rail-traffic congestion and other factors that cost the economy $500 million per year in lost productivity.” Redeker also stated that a shutdown of the entire NEC could create a loss of $100 million on the U.S. economy daily.

“This may seem like a lot of money, but repair costs grow when projects are neglected for years,” NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews stated. “If the NEC is able to receive significant funding over the next five years, it will create a stronger future for the region and America’s economy.”

Registration is NOW Open For NARP’s 2017 RAIL NATION CHICAGO Passenger Rail EXPO And 50th Anniversary Celebration - Chicago, IL

  • Thursday, November 2 to Sunday, November 5, 2017
  • Four days packed with an exciting array of presentations, speakers, exhibits, tours, and events
  • Celebrating NARP’s accomplishments over the past 50 years and looking ahead to the future of passenger rail in the United States
  • Host Hotel: Millennium Knickerbocker
  • Watch for more details soon...

The editorial board for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram suggested that rural legislators and opponents of a high-speed rail line should look at the project’s many benefits, before making final decisions on various bills that have been proposed to slow or stop the project. The Texas House Transportation Committee is considering various bills that may hinder or even kill the project completely, they include:

  • Senate Bill 981, which would require that the line be compatible with more than one bullet-train technology.
  • House Bill 2104, which would require Texas Central to post a bond in the amount needed to restore all real property to its original condition should the project fail.
  • House Bill 2163, requiring parts of the rail line to be elevated to a height of 40 feet.
  • House Bill 2167, saying that no state funds, credit or guarantees will be used for the project unless Texas Central grants the state a superior lien on its assets in an amount sufficient to repay the state.
  • House Bill 2172, a ban on use of state money to help plan, construct, maintain or operate the rail line.
  • SB 975 sets extensive security requirements for high-speed rail.

Although the editorial staff does not discuss the specific benefits, NARP has advocated many times that the state, along with Houston, Dallas, and the many cities in between, will see a variety of benefits during construction and implementation of the line. Notable benefits include:

  • the creation of 40,000 direct jobs in construction and engineering that would be created over four years;
  • an additional 1,000 permanent jobs in operating and maintenance;
  • a transportation alternative for people who already travel on overcrowded highways in Texas;
  • reduction in pollutants from vehicles on the state’s highways; and
  • spurring growth and development of businesses and communities along the rail line.

To get your voice heard, NARP is providing opportunities for our Texan members to reach out to their elected officials and safeguard texan rail project from attacks by special interest groups.

Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!

Now that the Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Denver has corrected crossing gate glitches on its A and B lines, the agency can move forward with testing trains on its G Line. The G Line was originally set to open last October, but the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) required the RTD to solve the gate issues first. Since the correction, the FRA has authorized “limited” testing and operator training on the G Line, which will run from Arvada to Wheat Ridge. The FRA also stated that the RTD must station flaggers--as it did with crossing for the A and B lines--at points where the G Line crosses streets to warn motorists.

In the face of a budget shortfall for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project, mayors from all four Hawaii counties have requested that Gov. David Ige extend the 2017 legislative session to find funding. Cost estimates for the rail project have gone from about $5 billion in 2014 to nearly $10 billion, and the project could see a shortfall of $1.5 billion should a new bill pass the state’s House. Honolulu city and county leaders and officials with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation have asked for a 10-year extension of the existing 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge. But, Governor Ige has stated he is not likely to budge on extending the session for funding. Notably, if a funding plan is not developed by the state, the federal government could withhold future money and could also ask Honolulu to return money previously spent. The Authority has already spent nearly $722 million in federal funds on the rail transit project, out of $1.5 billion.

There are openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Hawaii; Idaho; Indiana; Missouri; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio, Virginia (2 openings) and Wyoming. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.

If you live in one of these states and want to become more active in NARP’s leadership and work, this is your opportunity to become involved. If you are interested in being considered for an appointment to an open state seat by the Board of Directors please complete this Candidate Information Statement.