Hotline #1,022

Thank You To #Rally4Train Supporters; Amtrak Hires New Leadership; Cuomo Declares State of Emergency; VA Board Approves Six-Year Improvement Program

Check Out Our Newest Hotline! NARP thanks those members who have sent in industry-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor from your communities. We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Please send your news items to Bob Brady, bbrady@xenophonstrategies.com, and we will continue to share it with the membership. We also ask members to send events that we can put on the website here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.


#Rally4Trains Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop!

An enormous “thank you” to all the rail passengers and supporters who came out across the country to #Rally4Trains last weekend and this week! To date over 30 rallies have been held and many more threatened stations have #Rally4trains posters and flyers prominently displayed. This is just the beginning of our effort!

Though most of the media and Washington are focused on tabloid fights between the president and media personalities, there’s still crucial legislation that must be passed by Congress to fund long distance passenger rail. Our mission right now is to get Congress to reject the White House’s long-distance train attacks. We cannot take our eye off the ball!

Make no mistake, there is still a White House budget proposal that will kill Amtrak in more than 220 cities and towns in 23 states. More than 140 million Americans are at risk of losing all Amtrak service. It is practically unfathomable, but this is where the country is at right now.

And the good news? You’re being heard. The #Rally4Trains and Towns Without Trains campaign has been picked up by CBS, ABC, USA Today and in dozens of newspapers all over the country, as well as 25 local television stations in affected areas. It’s working! Keep it up!

It’s not too late to host another rally. We’ll send you everything you need, including posters, flyers, handouts, sample press releases and letters, and a list of media contacts.

Even if you cannot take part in a physical event, it is very important that you call your member of Congress at: 202-224-2131, and tell them you oppose this disastrous federal budget proposal. That number will allow you to connect with the people who represent you in Washington. Or, email them by visiting the www.townswithouttrains.com website, and clicking the “Contact Congress” button.

Another easy way you can participate is to use the #Rally4Trains hashtag on your social media accounts to tell your friends and followers that you support passenger rail in America. Whenever you’re on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter -- sharing pictures of rallies at your station or in your town, or just sharing your frustration over the short-sighted budget request -- at the end of your post insert #Rally4Trains, just as you see it spelled here. That ensures that everyone’s messages and pictures are gathered in one place for everyone to see online!

Federal representatives must understand that funding and maintaining a national rail network is vital to everyday life for millions of people, as well as the economic growth and prosperity of the country.

[The Towns Without Trains and #Rally4Trains project has been made possible through generous bequests from the estates of George McCallum, Edmund Fritz and Lewis Hoppe, as well as financial contributions from NARP members all across America who make our work possible.]

NARP and its members are not alone in our effort. Several rail advocacy groups are coming together to voice their opinions and encourage Congress to support long distance trains. As part of the movement, two petitions have been created online at MoveOn.org. Both urge Congress to fund Amtrak passenger rail in order to maintain service and safety of passengers.

If you would like to sign on and support these efforts, please visit the first petition here, which has more than 100,000 signers, and the second petition here, which has more than 6,000 signers.


Stories From Passengers: J. Howard Harding

“Amtrak is by far the most wheelchair-friendly way to travel, as my wife and I discovered throughout our 45 years of marriage. My wife Patty, had polio when she was 12 years old, and for the following 67 years -- until her death in January of 2017 -- she required use of a wheelchair for personal mobility.

Thanks largely to Amtrak's accessible trains, we were able to visit all of the ‘lower 48’ states. [We also visited Alaska, where we rode the Alaska State RR and the White Pass & Yukon RR, and Hawaii.] Of course, we also used rental cars, urban and intercity buses, commuter trains, ferries, white-water rafts, a Goodyear blimp and an airplane or two along the way. But without Amtrak's comfortable sleeping cars and generously sized coach seats, we would never have been able to see so much of our nation.

We would have used Amtrak far more, if it served more cities and towns and more directly connected cities on existing parallel routes.”

A big thanks goes to J. Howard Harding for sharing his story! NARP is looking for more stories like these about the National Network to help us fight the White House's proposed budget for FY2018. 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. We’ve heard from hundreds of you so far and we’re making sure they get seen in Washington...but we still need more!

If you haven’t taken part in this effort, 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 stories@narprail.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.

Amtrak announced that it hired former Delta CEO Richard Anderson as the railroad’s new President and CEO. Anderson will replace current President and CEO Wick Moorman, who is stepping down after taking over at Amtrak last September. In addition to Delta, Anderson also has experience as the former CEO for Northwest Airlines. He will start in his new leadership role on July 12. Both Anderson and Moorman will act as co-CEOs until the end of 2017, and Moorman will act as an adviser beginning in 2018.

In response to the news, NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews said, “NARP is very pleased Amtrak is making the sensible move of bringing in an executive with strong management experience in a customer-service oriented transportation company. While Richard Anderson is not a ‘railroader,’ he is a transportation professional with leadership experience in a very complex environment.

Wick Moorman has already put in place many innovations at Amtrak on the railroading and operations side, and with this foundation the task can now turn to addressing Amtrak's unique and complex challenges as a passenger carrier on a national network -- especially around getting the customer-service part of the equation right."

The transition comes at a notable time for Amtrak, as it recently restructured its management, Amtrak is also heading into a stretch of emergency repair work for New York’s Penn Station, which will see passenger rail service reduced for Amtrak, NJ Transit and LIRR trains.

In addition to Amtrak’s repair work at Penn Station, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The move by Gov. Cuomo comes only days after an MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) A-line subway train derailed Tuesday, and resulted in 34 people being injured. According to MTA Chairman Joe Lhota and Interim Executive Director Ronnie Hakim, who released a joint statement, the derailment was a result of human error, when an improperly secured piece of replacement rail was stored on the tracks.

“It’s great to know that New York is moving forward in upgrading its public transit, but it’s unfortunate that it takes a derailment to get governments to act on repairing and maintaining passenger rail and other public services,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “We hope that other state and city officials take notice and move forward in supporting public transit systems that should be considered safe and reliable for passengers. This isn’t an Amtrak problem. It’s not a New York City subway problem. It’s a national infrastructure crisis, and the entire country must work together for solutions.”

The derailment, coupled with other operational incidents and delays, pushed Gov. Cuomo to act on the emergency declaration, which will help provide much-needed resources for the MTA. The state of emergency will allow the MTA to move faster in the purchasing of material and equipment needed to repair tracks, signals, switches and other components. MTA will also received $1 billion in additional funding from the state, which will go to the agency’s capital plan.

Following the declaration, The New York Times New York editorial team provided its recommendations on how the MTA could improve its subway system. Overall, the suggestions are interesting and many are passenger-focused:

How to Modernize Subway Cars

  • Use driverless trains;
  • Install power outlets (lots of them);
  • Unleash robotic cleaners on trains;
  • Add hand sanitizer dispensers;
  • Create quiet cars.

How to Improve Communication Infrastructure

  • Add a countdown clock at every station;
  • Put Wi-Fi inside subway cars, not just at the stations;
  • Send mobile push alerts to riders to identify which cars are least crowded;
  • Hire actors with powerful voices (think Morgan Freeman) to record train announcements that can actually be heard.

The NARP Board of Directors met this week in Saint Paul, MN for for a strategic planning retreat. For the first time ever, the full NARP staff joined with the NARP Board for the two days of intensive discussions focused on charting the direction and goals of the Association over the coming several years.

Attendees enjoyed using the many features of the beautifully restored Saint Paul Union Depot. In addition, the NARP Board was briefed by the Officers and Board members of All Aboard Minnesota on current efforts to expand rail service between Chicago and the Twin Cities, and on the longer term goals of adding new service on several routes radiating from the Twin Cities.


Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, thinks the White House’s infrastructure plan for the country could be pushed into 2018. Sen. Thune said that the plan for the $1-trillion package could be proposed in the fall due to other priorities the Trump Administration is focused on, including healthcare and tax reform.

NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews said that the President’s administration is not living up to the campaign promises President Trump made. “NARP, transportation planners and transit agencies have been waiting for months to learn how the administration was going to prioritize transportation and infrastructure in the U.S., but since the election, we have been left with empty promises. Passenger rail and other public transit services are used by millions of people everyday and the strain on the infrastructure will only worsen over time if the federal government doesn’t act soon. It is too big a problem for states and localities to face on their own.”

In addition to healthcare and tax reform, Congress is also focused on several "must-pass" bills over the next few months, including measures related to aviation, the debt ceiling and government spending, which could take away their focus from the infrastructure plan.

Dominic Sarno, the Mayor of Springfield, filed a letter with the Massachusetts House Ways and Means committee, asking the committee to support a feasibility study for a high-speed rail line. The study will examine the possibility of creating a passenger rail line between Springfield and Boston.

"Though this feasibility study is a good first step in addressing this issue, I would also encourage this study to go a step further and take a look at what can realistically be accomplished to enhance transportation options from Boston to Springfield; from high-speed to commuter rail to bus travel and all modes of transportation," said Sarno in his letter.

Last week, State Sen. Eric Lesser led a, “Rally For Rail,” and took to the rails to show support for creating an east-to-west, high-speed passenger rail line. Sen. Lesser has been successful in rallying support for the feasibility study and is making a hard push for it to be included in Massachusetts’s FY 2018 budget. Despite Sen. Lesser’s efforts it might not be enough to convince Gov. Charlie Baker who vetoed a similar proposal last year. Keep pushing Sen. Lesser and good luck!

Virginia rail passengers can expect considerable improvements to passenger rail service across the state in the coming years. The Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP) with the intent of putting $18.6 billion towards transportation projects. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will have $3.4 billion to invest in rail projects and other public transportation initiatives.

The breakdown of the budget can be seen below:

  • $429 million – public transportation programs
  • $207.3 million – passenger and freight rail programs
  • $1.6 million – rail industrial access programs
  • $7.8 million – rail preservation programs
  • $8.7 million – commuter assistance programs
  • $13.9 million – agency operating budget
  • $4.3 million – planning, regulation and safety programs
  • $16.4 million – human service transportation programs

NARP is excited to see the improvements that will be made to the Virginia passenger rail network, and other commuter projects. This is an important action by Virginia officials at a time when federal support is up in the air, and we hope to see other states follow suit!


Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events

  • Monday, July 10 - 9:00am - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers will be participating in a public outreach event at the Wickford Junction, RI MBTA Station highlighting the start of limited-time free train service to and from Providence, RI.
  • Saturday, August 12 - 12:00noon - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Utica, NY Union Station - Trackside Restaurant
  • Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!

Brightline Florida, the private passenger rail-line that will run from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, announced in a press release a new partnership with Florida Power and Light Company. FPL will provide Brightline trains with 2 million gallons of clean, biodiesel-blended fuel annually for two years.

“This fueling partnership with FPL is a great example of two Florida-based companies working together to create jobs and utilize local resources,” said Tom Rutkowski, Brightline’s Chief Mechanical Officer. “Brightline is investing in the nation’s economy, from the trainsets to the rail infrastructure, all of which are manufactured in America.”

Brightline has received considerable support across the state and with a partnership between FPL, it can only grow. Floridians can expect a reliable train service that operates efficiently and most importantly offers an environmentally conscious alternative to driving across the state.

“FPL has long been committed to energy independence as well as environmental stewardship,” said Sam Forrest, Vice President of Energy Marketing and Trading for FPL. “We’ve been tearing down old power plants to make way for new energy centers that run on clean, low-cost natural gas, and building new emissions-free solar energy centers that use 100 percent Florida sunshine. That’s why we’re proud to partner with Brightline to provide them with a cleaner, biodiesel-blended fuel for their trains.”

Get excited Florida, once Brightline is fully operational it will be a shining example of how passenger rail service should operate in the United States.

TEXRail gave local media in Dallas-Ft. Worth an up-close look at its Equipment Maintenance Facility this week to showcase the progress being made to connect downtown Fort Worth to the Dallas/FortWorth Airport by the end of 2018. The rail line is expected to carry nearly 8,000 passengers a day over a 52-minute commute. There will be multiple stops along the way, connecting Fort Worth, North Richland Hills and Grapevine. By 2035, the line may carry up to 14,000 passenger a day.

In a Bay Area poll, 75 percent of voters support a sales tax increase of one-eighth of a cent to double the ridership capacity of Caltrain. The majority of voters from Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and San Francisco agreed that the congestion in the Bay Area is bad enough to outweigh the additional costs associated with using the train service. In order for the tax hike to take effect, two-thirds of combined votes from the three counties would be needed to endorse it. The ridership in the area is continuing to grow; over the last ten years it has increased from 27,000 to 62,000. Caltrain is in the process of beginning a new project that is expected to boost ridership by another 110,000 daily riders and, with the sales tax, total ridership could exceed 250,000.

In other California transportation news, San Mateo County’s transit agencies are planning to spend $450 million on infrastructure projects in 2018. The inclusive infrastructure investment will address issues like adding another lane to highway 101, retrofitting Dumbarton rail bridge, and studying express lanes for buses on El Camino Real. Upgrading the public transit in the area will considerably alleviate traffic congestion.


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 must-see 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

The replacement of Amtrak’s Susquehanna rail bridge can move forward as the Federal Transit Authority issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” for the bridge. Simply put, this means Amtrak will not have to conduct a deeper environmental review of the project. The planning process began four years ago and is still in its beginning stages. The bridge is expected to cost nearly $1 billion and take more than 10 years to design and build.

"Amtrak, as the bridge owner, will continue to maintain and evaluate the bridge and make sure it's safe, so right now not much will change until funding is available for a full design," Jacqueline Thorne, the Maryland Department of Transportation project manager for the rail bridge project, said Monday.

The bridge is in dire need of repairs, and regular maintenance is needed. Currently, Amtrak trains approaching the bridge must slow down when crossing. The project is aimed to address these issues to make the bridge structurally sound and more efficient for those traveling through the Northeast Corridor.

The tension between Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad is continuing to build, as the Long Island Railroad Commuter Council sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The LIRR Commuter Council asked Sec. Chao for federal funding, “to allow the MTA and LIRR to defray these costs without placing an undue burden on either LIRR riders or New York taxpayers.”

Amtrak’s summer repairs at New York Penn Station will force the MTA and the LIRR to accommodate its customers through discounted rides or tolls as Amtrak has previously said it will not cover these costs; it is not required to legally.

The Federal Railroad Administration named Heath Hall as Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator and he will serve as the acting Administrator for the time being. Hall has extensive experience in the transportation sector and public relations, as he started his career as an FRA intern, and the moved to the USDOT’s office of the deputy secretary. NARP would like to extend a congratulations to Heath for the new position. We look forward to working with him in his new role.

If you like trains and if you like solar eclipses, you are in luck. Amtrak is offering discounted tickets for those traveling to Carbondale, in Southern Illinois, to view the total solar eclipse on August 21. If you plan on travelling to the area between August 16 - 22, you can save 30% on tickets. Don’t miss out, this is the first time a total eclipse has occurred in 99 years!

Earlier this week in Washington, D.C., WMATA was asked by the Arlington Patch to clarify a tweet that came from its Twitter account claiming there was a “train-malfunction,” referring to an incorrect re-routing of a blue-line train.

WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel said, “Train operators do not control the routing of trains, so this would not be considered 'operator error.'" Stessel said that in instances like this, a ‘train-malfunction’ is an acceptable description to alert passengers of a single-train delay.

WMATA has had a rough week due to serious delays along the Red Line both last Friday and on Tuesday. As summer chugs along, those in the DMV area can only hope that the WMATA is proactive and transparent when addressing issues that cause future delays.


NARP ISSUES STATEMENT ON JUNE 27 AMTRAK ACCIDENT

NARP President Jim Mathews released the following statement on the Amtrak accident on June 27 near Washington, D.C., in which two CSX employees were reportedly killed while on the tracks.

“On behalf of rail passengers everywhere, we express our sincere condolences to the two people who lost their lives and their families. This is a sad and unfortunate reminder of how hard the job is to keep us all moving and we are all grateful for the daily efforts of railroad workers everywhere.”


The prototype for the future of Atlanta’s transit network may already exist. Atlanta Transportation officials are looking at the success of Denver and other cities and hope to use that as a way to enhance public transit in Atlanta. Traffic congestion in Atlanta is getting worse, and the collapse of I-85 two months ago opened the eyes of many. Officials want to use their existing metro long-term transportation plan to encourage the use of public transit, but to also take advantage of bike and walking paths.

“It’s a balanced plan,” said Dave Williams, a vice president at the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “We are mostly road-based. We need to improve that. We need to diversify the way people commute.”

State and local transportation funding in Atlanta is steadily growing and being put to use. Toll lanes are appearing on I-85 and other highways in the area, and MARTA plans to expand its network in Atlanta and Clayton County.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), the first to operate between Sonoma and Marin in decades, is offering free rides this Saturday and on the Fourth of July as it tests its trains. The 43-mile rail line includes 10 stations along the route, and many in the area are eager to try the service. The Federal Railroad Administration has yet to give the SMART service the go-head to open completely. SMART is hopeful that it will be able to offer commuters a full schedule soon. With free wi-fi and on-board snack shop, passengers can’t wait to take full advantage of this long-anticipated rail line.


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, Texas, Virginia (2 openings) and Wyoming. There is also one ‘At-Large’ Representative position currently available. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.

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.


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