NARP Condemns Proposed Budget; Still No Details on Infrastructure Plan; Caltrain Wins Funding; Gov. Cuomo Releases Needed Penn Station Plan
May 26, 2017
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The Trump Administration released a devastating budget this week. The most detailed version yet reiterates a proposal to eliminate Amtrak’s long-distance trains, slashes key transit and transportation programs, and threatens to accelerate the deterioration of physical infrastructure and constrict economic growth in the U.S.
In a press release issued by NARP, President and CEO Jim Mathews said, “Unfortunately, it appears that President Trump has abandoned his campaign promise to invest in our infrastructure and get Americans working again. This is a budget that treats small towns and rural communities as ‘flyover country.’ Instead of seeing citizens, it sees ‘a poor business case for investment.’ But we know that every American town deserves the tools to succeed, and the small business owner waiting at a station in Mississippi is no less important than a banker boarding an Acela in New York.”
After an initial reading of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, NARP has identified the following threats to rail and transit:
Eliminates $630 million to Amtrak’s long-distance trains, $560 million below FAST Act authorized levels. This budget provides $525 million for the National Network, but targets all funding to the state supported services and other costs, calling for an end to all of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Realistically, the proposal would lead to the shutdown of the entire National Network, state-supported trains and all. After years of stagnant funding, aging equipment and stations, and increased ridership demands, Amtrak is already running the national rail system on a threadbare budget. Gutting half of the National Network funding will result in a slow-motion collapse of the entire network.
Reduces funding for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at $235 million, $280 million below FAST Act authorized levels and $97 million below FY2017 numbers. With tens of billions in critical capital investment needed urgently on the Northeast Corridor, stagnant funding levels will shut the door on a number of crucial projects that will improve reliability.
Funds FAST Act rail grant programs at $51 million, $375 million below the levels authorized for FY2018 in the FAST Act. The budget focuses token funds on the programs targeted at large metropolitan areas, ignoring restoration programs pushed by Senators representing rural areas.
Zeroes out $499 million from the TIGER grant program, slashing the highly successful program that invests in passenger rail and transit projects of national significance;
Cuts $928 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which is crucial to launching new transit, commuter rail, and light-rail projects.
Even the oft-touted infrastructure investment package falls short. Not only will the investment be spread out over 10 years, the $200 billion in proposed infrastructure spending (not the $1 trillion promised in the campaign) is secured through an accounting gimmick, and will be offset by $95 billion in assumed Highway Trust Fund cuts after 2020.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Sean Jeans-Gail, Vice President of NARP, highlighted how much the loss of Amtrak routes will hurt people who rely on them in about 220 smaller communities in 23 states, including seniors and other vulnerable populations who have few travel options.
“These communities really depend on these trains as an economic lifeline,” Jeans-Gail said. “There are small-town, rural communities — ironically, the same communities that put Trump in the White House — where people can’t go to a local airport. Often, that one train a day is their only alternative to driving.”
In addition, the Trump Administration proposal would not provide support to construction for transit projects without Full Funding Grant Agreements. Rather, it requires such initiatives to be funded locally by communities that will use the services. This puts at risk about 50 public transit projects in 23 states that could lose federal support, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Examples include:
- A streetcar project in Orange County, Calif.,
- a light-rail extension in the Minneapolis suburbs, and
- a light-rail extension north of Seattle.
"This budget proposal to eliminate critical public transportation infrastructure projects is inconsistent with addressing America's critical transportation needs and helping America's economy prosper," said Richard White, APTA's acting president and chief executive officer, in a press release. "These targeted cuts to public transit go directly against the president's own calls for new infrastructure spending."
In response to the proposed budget, NARP is asking its members—and all rail and transit passengers everywhere—to hit back against this reckless proposal by writing their Senators and Representatives today!
Congress has the power of the purse, and combined, the Senate and House can defeat this proposal. Given the positive FY2017 budget passed in April -- which saw increased funding for Amtrak, transit, and intercity rail programs -- we know this is a fight we can win. Members of Congress will be listening to hear which cuts produce the most pushback from advocacy groups, local officials, and members of the public. That’s how they and their staffs gauge where cuts can be made. Complacency is a real risk: if we stay silent, these kinds of cuts could be enacted into law!
Write your member of Congress today!
NARP needs your stories about the National Network to help us fight this budget. Facts and figures alone can’t communicate how vital these trains are to the communities that depend on them. NARP needs to hear from YOU about your town, and your train. Numbers numb, stories sell.
If you haven’t taken part in this campaign, please take just a minute or two to write out a few paragraphs telling us why passenger rail is important to you, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re looking for stories from individual passengers about how train service benefits their lives, and how their lives would be hurt by the loss of train service. We’re especially interested in stories that describe how trains:
- Connect you to vital services, such as medical care or vital government services;
- Provide access to educational opportunities, whether it’s traveling across the state to university or commuting to an internship;
- Allow you to maintain mobility while managing a disability or medical condition;
- Help you and your business, and its role in helping you connect with customers and clients.
It is expected that Congress will begin preparing their own version of the budget after they return following the Memorial Day Weekend recess. There is time to reach out to and encourage your elected officials to supporting funding for rail and transit passengers everywhere during the interim.
In regards to the outlined infrastructure plan that was included alongside the budget proposal, more details are set to come in the next few weeks, according to Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure highways and transit subcommittee. Rep. Graves told reporters that he expects the Trump Administration to release additional details either later in May or in the first part of June.
In the six-page outline, the administration included that it wants to see:
- Public assets sold off to the private sector;
- Expansion of an existing infrastructure loan program; and
- Reduction of tolling restrictions on existing interstate highways.
At the same time, according to Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, the Senate is taking the lead on preparing the infrastructure plan. Though he did not provide any details, Sen. Barrasso said, “This is along the lines of what President Trump promised the country. … That’s why the first hearing I held as EPW chairman was on infrastructure.”
Sen. Barrasso’s panel has jurisdiction over a broad range of infrastructure issues that are being closely reviewed for inclusion in the plan, including waterways, ports, bridges, roads and other public works. The committee is also looking at various funding options, ways to streamline the permit approval process, and has compared public- and private-sector roles in building infrastructure projects.
“We know more can be done by the administration and Congress to develop an infrastructure, as well as a budget, that supports the needs of millions of Americans nationwide,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “What we have seen so far from the administration does not fulfill any campaign promises and deters ideas of connectivity, job creation and economic growth.”
'A Day Without Trains': Saturday, June 23 -- Save The Date!
The fight to preserve the National Network has in full swing.
Thanks to all of you we've already won a significant victory with support in the Fiscal 2017 spending plan, but the National Network has come under assault again in the Fiscal 2018 budget submission from the administration, and Congress will debate this summer.
And make no mistake: the state-supported services and the Northeast Corridor would also be terribly crippled by the end of the National Network, and this is a moment for everyone who needs passenger-rail service to stand up and be counted.
We'll be organizing a National Day Without Trains on Friday, June 23, and we NEED YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN YOUR TOWN.
Watch for emails and announcements on how to take part. Don’t sit on the sidelines!
This week, Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) secured a huge win when the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) decided to move forward with a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) that will provide $647 million to modernize and electrify the 154-year-old Caltrain system that links San Francisco and San Jose.
Construction was originally set to start in March, but following requests from state Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the Trump Administration delayed the funding decision until now. The lobbying efforts by Republicans was an attempt to prevent advancement of the high-speed rail line in the state, which will use Caltrain’s electrified tracks in the future.
NARP praised the administration for the funding decision, including an appreciative statement to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. Following the recent decision, President and CEO Jim Mathews released the following statement:
“On behalf of the the 65,000 train commuters who depend on the Peninsula Corridor every day, we applaud Secretary Chao’s decision to move forward with this critical project. This service provides a much-needed alternative to the heavily congested U.S. 101 freeway, and modernizing the current diesel-based service is a cost-effective way to deliver more efficient, faster, and more frequent rail service to the region. This is an example of good policy winning out over politics, and it wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of California’s congressional delegation—particularly Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Jackie Speier—and Governor Jerry Brown’s leadership."
The electrification project is estimated to cost $1.98 billion, funded primarily through state, regional and local money that has been collected since 1996. It also includes voter-approved high-speed rail bond money. In addition, the project is estimated to create more than 9,600 total direct and indirect jobs. The program has been the driving force for the construction of a new railcar assembly plant in Salt Lake City, Ut., which will generate sustainable, family-wage jobs for 550 employees.
Association of Young Americans stands with NARP
Too often we hear about disenfranchisement spreading to the very voters who our work will eventually affect the most: those just now eligible to vote. This is why we're proud to announce that the Association of Young Americans picked up on our recent campaign against the proposed White House budget. The issue resonated with their growing membership. Thanks to them, hundreds of calls were made on behalf of saving national network trains by newly active Millennials in the political arena. Head over and check them out; there's no age restriction, only an interest in expanding democratic participation from newly of age voters: an underrepresented yet enormous segment of constituents.
With summer right around the corner, and repairs at New York Penn Station on the near horizon, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raised concerns that Amtrak may not be able to handle the extensive repairs to meet demand, which would result in a “summer of agony” for passengers. Gov. Cuomo detailed those worries and plans for Penn Station in a press conference Tuesday and stated, “When Penn suffers, mass transit throughout the Northeast suffers — and [that’s] what’s happening now.”
Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman said Tuesday that Amtrak is all hands on deck and would appoint HNTB Corp., an infrastructure planning, engineering and construction management company, to oversee the track renewal work.
“Amtrak is taking every step to ensure that we accomplish this work on schedule over the summer,” Moorman. “Bringing in a leading design and engineering firm with project experience on the Northeast Corridor will help provide additional expertise to our in-house team and an independent view of our progress.”
Cuomo also sent President Trump a letter to request emergency federal funding to help support the repairs at Penn Station. He emphasized that commuters on Amtrak, NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road are dreading the forthcoming disruptions this summer.
To facilitate the repairs, Gov. Cuomo’s request insisted that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (or a private organization) take control of the project, and combine the repairs with the James A. Farley Post Office Building and the Gateway Tunnel. This would combine the three different initiatives as one major project for the state. Amtrak would continue to operate the station.
Cuomo also hopes that state and federal officials can work together to complete the necessary repairs, which would last about 44 days and cause up to a 20-25 percent reduction in service. To help with the repairs, Gov. Cuomo created a Penn Station Task Force that will develop plans to manage riders during the Penn Station repairs. This includes developing routes for express buses, high-speed ferries from Long Island, and restricted high-occupancy vehicle lanes on the Long Island Expressway.
The newly appointed task force includes New York's transportation commissioner, Matthew J. Driscoll, as well as several real estate and elected officials, but no railroad officials.
“Repairs to Penn Station, and in a way, the Northeast Corridor, are critical and we are glad to see that Amtrak and Gov. Cuomo are moving forward to ensure summer repairs move forward as efficiently as possible,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “We have advocated for a number of years that major repairs were needed in the corridor, and we encourage all associated parties - whether it’s state, federal or private organizations - to pull together to ensure the work is done effectively, quickly and correctly.”
Michael DeCataldo, the VP of Operations for Amtrak, also confirmed this week some details of the forthcoming work at Penn Station. According to DeCataldo, three tracks at a time will be closed during the summer work. He did not provide details on how schedules will be impacted however, for Amtrak, NJ Transit or LIRR trains.
In other station news, Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials announced that Chicago firm Riverside Investment & Development was selected as the lead developer for Chicago Union Station’s $1 billion renovation and development project. The project, as it’s planned now, is expected to include 2 million square feet of office space, 780 apartments and 350 hotel rooms.
“Although development regarding Chicago Union Station has stalled in past years, we are very excited to see this new project move into fruition,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “This is an example of how stations can be a centerpiece for development in cities, and can generate new construction jobs, economic growth, new places to live and eat, and much more.”
Riverside’s proposal is expected to begin in 2018 and construction is expected to last six years. Notably, Union Station which opened in 1925, is located in an area long considered “no man’s land” in Chicago, as it sits between Loop skyscrapers and the Kennedy Expressway. Yet its transformation is planned at a time when other developers are investing billions of dollars in real estate projects nearby.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings
Saturday, June 3, 2017 - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Schenectady, NY
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
For any NARP members living in the Baltimore area, get ready for two weeks of free rides following the opening of the BaltimoreLink route on June 18th. To celebrate the start of the BaltimoreLink, which modernizes a 50-year-old bus service to downtown Baltimore, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is offering free rides on its buses, light rail and subway services (excluding MARC Trains, commuter buses or MTA Mobility/Paratransit) to encourage people to try the bus line. The new system, according to the MTA, will be centered around 12 high-frequency CityLink lines. MTA Administrator Paul Comfort said in a statement, "This new system will be a dramatic improvement that will give residents choices to leave their cars at home and ease congestion on our streets."
Repair work for Metro in Washington, D.C. will be completed next month as WMATA conducts its last repair surge as part of its SafeTrack maintenance plan. Next month’s repairs will be WMATA’s 16th safety surge, which started three years ago. According to the agency, the June 17th closure will include a 5-mile segment of the Red Line between the Shady Grove and Twinbrook stations in Montgomery County, Md. The final repair work will conclude on June 25th.
Notably, the Trump Administration’s budget proposal shed a positive light on Metro. The proposal includes an annual $150 million grant for that the agency can use to conduct repairs and maintenance on the rail lines. The same amount will also be matched by Maryland, D.C. and Virginia for 10 years as part of a $1.5 billion investment plan in WMATA.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said, “We appreciate the administration’s leadership and recognition of the importance of Metro’s investment needs. This represents an important infrastructure investment in our regional and national asset.”
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
In important safety news, the federal government will provide NJ Transit with a $10 million grant that will be specifically used for implementing positive train control (PTC) on the agency’s trains. The technology can remotely monitor and control the speed of a train, and its use could have potentially prevented the crash at Hoboken Station last September that injured 100 people and killed one.
Over the past several years, NARP has pushed the federal government to assist in funding the installation of positive train control on passenger rail lines. NARP has highlighted that the nation’s current multimodal transportation system relies on rail service to function safely and effectively, and the implementation of PTC on passenger rail lines is vital.
The money for NJ Transit is provided via a grant program that is included in the five-year, $305 billion transportation bill signed into law in December 2015. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th Dist.) said, "This grant announcement is welcome news to weary commuters.”
Get Ready, Summer By Rail 2017 is Almost Here
Summer is right around the corner and that means “Summer by Rail” is returning for a second year. Thanks to the warm and enthusiastic support that Elena Studier and her bike Stevie received last year, we are expanding the program this year to send two interns across the country by rail for nearly 40 days.
Caitlin Boyle and Victoria Principato, both students at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., won the internship after a competitive application process. They will explore dozens of cities this summer. Together, they will share their experiences and the stories of those they meet along the way on www.summerbyrail.com as they travel from city to city by rail and bike. Major metropolitan areas and smaller communities will be traversed for this year’s event, which will kick-off in July. Some cities that Caitlin and Victoria will visit include New York, St. Louis, and Buffalo—as well as cities in Canada, including Montreal and Toronto.
The next leg of Summer By Rail will begin on July 31 in New York, and additional details on the event will be made available at www.summerbyrail.com.
With service expected to start this summer, All Aboard Florida’s Brightline showcased its West Palm Beach station this week. Although the station is still receiving its final and minor touches for the the cafe, waiting lounges and security area, the private company unveiled ticketing turnstiles and the station’s train platform.
Brightline expects to start “pre-season” service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in late July and service between West Palm Beach and Miami may start a little later than expected. A grand opening that was set to be held in September, is now set for the fall, a company official said. The addition of Brightline in Florida showcases the growing need for alternative modes of public transit. Ultimately, Brightline will increase connectivity throughout the state, alleviate congestion on Florida’s highways, and provide an energy-efficient mode of travel.
NARP Office Move Update
This week, NARP completed its move into new offices that will become the launching pad for advocacy activities in Washington, D.C.
Easily accessible from the Metro Center 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, Washington, DC 20005 is fully ADA-compliant so that members with mobility challenges will be easily and safely able to visit the new offices. 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.
Despite the White House proposal to cut Amtrak’s long-distance routes, state leaders are continuing the push to invest in a 21st Century rail network. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law a new bill that will allow the state to study rail service along the Front Range. The study will explore the expansion of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route through the southeastern corner of the state. In addition, the bill will allow for the appointment of 11 members to the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, which is responsible for preparing a plan and a draft bill New Mexico-to-Wyoming service by December 1, 2017.
“The way Colorado is moving forward with its plans for passenger rail is just one example of growing demand, and need, for Amtrak and public transit service in the U.S.,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “As a nation we should be looking at building and supporting a robust National Network of connecting people by light rail, HSR, buses, planes and more - not disconnecting people.
“The bill also shows how important it is for rail advocates to stay focused and committed,” Mathews continued. “The hard work and patient advocacy of NARP members and the very strong ColoRail group led by NARP Board Member Jim Souby is paying off in Colorado.”
The new commission will allow for 11 appointments, which will include five metropolitan planning organizations and the Regional Transportation District each appointing a member, and Gov. Hickenlooper appointing the last five positions. The governor’s appointees are slated to include representatives from freight carriers Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific, as well as public rail advocates.
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. There is also one ‘At-Large’ Representative position currently available.
If you 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 or to the ‘At-Large’ position by the Board of Directors please visit review these position responsibilities and required qualifications and complete the corresponding Candidate Information Statement. There is no deadline to apply...submissions are considered as they are received.