Hotline #1,024

House Subcommittee Rejects WH Proposal To Slash Amtrak; Amtrak CEO Addresses National Press Club; Penn Station Renewal Is Underway; FRA Releases ROD

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.


House GOP Appropriators Reject White House Proposal to Slash Amtrak Service

Led by the new appropriations chairman, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), House Republicans released a draft FY2018 budget yesterday evening that would boost spending for rail by $360 million over current levels, with the increase targeted towards the enormous state of good repair backlog on the Northeast Corridor. This draft proposal is a huge victory for passenger advocates, who have rallied against a Trump Administration proposal to eliminate long distance trains.

The bill presents a more complicated picture for transit, cutting top-levels by $662 million while preserving a key investment program that has proved crucial for rail transit and commuter rail projects.

Overall, the rail and transit investments were part of a $17.8 billion proposal, a $646 million cut from current levels—but still represents a $1.5 billion boost over the transportation plan proposed by President Donald Trump, which called for the elimination of Amtrak’s long distance trains.

“This is a huge victory for all the passengers who took part in rallies and advocacy campaigns against the White House’s disastrous proposal for the national rail network,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “But we still have more of this battle to fight—this proposal has a long way to go before becoming law, and we will be fully engaged with the entire House and Senate appropriators to boost the investment figures for passenger rail and transit, and eliminate proposals that unfairly target high-speed rail projects.”

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing will mark-up and vote on the bill tonight.

The Numbers

Program

FY2017 Appropriated Levels

FAST Act FY2018 Authorized Levels

White House FY2018 Budget Proposal

House THUD FY2018 Budget Proposal

Amtrak - National Network

$1,167.0

$1,085.0

$525.0

$1,100.0

Amtrak - NEC

$328.0

$515.0

$235.0

$328.0

Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety Grants

$68.0

$230.0

$25.0

$25.0

Federal State Partnership For State Of Good Repair

$25.0

$175.0

$26.0

$500.0

Restoration & Enhancement Grants

$5.0

$21.0

$0.0

$0.0

Total

$1,593.0

$2,026.0

$811.0

$1,953.0

  • The draft provides a total of $1.4 billion for Amtrak, of which:

    • $1.1 billion to support the national network which, while a slight decrease over current funding, is still a decisive dismissal of the Trump Administration’s call to eliminate the national system; and

    • $328 million for the Northeast Corridor.

  • The bill also provides funding for two of the three intercity rail grant programs authorized by the FAST Act:

    • $500 million for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, a 2000% increase over current spending and authorized levels, which appropriators are explicitly targeting towards the $38 billion maintenance backlog on the Northeast Corridor, and the Gateway Project specifically;

    • $25 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grants, a disappointing reduction of $43 million from the FY2017 enacted level. This newly created program—which received its first funding in April of this year—funds capital and safety improvements, planning, environmental work, and research; and

    • No funding for the Restoration & Enhancement Grants, a blow towards the Gulf Coast Restoration project, and a decision which NARP will fight in the Senate appropriations process.

  • The draft provides $11.75 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)—a disappointing $662 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level (but $526 million above the White House request).

    • $9.7 billion will go towards formula grants, consistent with the FAST Act authorization levels;

    • $1.75 billion is included for Capital Investment Grants, and $1 billion for “Full Funding Grant Agreement” (FFGA) transit projects—a huge win for advocates, who have fought the Trump Administration’s proposal to wind down this critical project;

    • $145 million in the draft for Core Capacity projects, and $400 million included for new projects that provide both public transportation and inter-city passenger rail service—a clear indication that this money is targeted towards the Gateway Project, which serves Amtrak, NJ Transit, and the MTA. These programs provide funding for “major transit capital investments – including rapid rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail.”

Now, the Bad News

While the bill provides relatively good news on funding levels, it also includes a number of damaging provisions and funding decisions, including:

  • Eliminating the popular TIGER Grant program, which helped fund a number of innovative intercity rail, transit, and freight rail projects since its inception;

  • Prohibiting funding for high speed rail in California and the California High Speed Rail Authority;

  • Prohibiting the Surface Transportation Board from taking action regarding the construction of high-speed rail in California unless the Board has jurisdiction over the entire project.

There will be an opportunity to push back against these provisions, on the floor of the House when the bill comes for a vote before the full body, and during the Senate committee process. NARP will continue to use our #Rally4Trains campaign to improve and advance these policies throughout the summer—please consider a special donation to help support us in our work!


Stories From Passengers: Professor Steven Grado; Mississippi State

What Long Distance Trains Meant to Me and My Family

My son attended the University of Virginia for four years and worked in Charlottesville, Virginia for two more years. I can’t tell you how much the Crescent meant to us. First, the price was reasonable. Second, he could get the train in the evening and arrive at noon the next day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. What does this all mean? He did not have a car for four of the six years he was there, and even if he did he did not want to make the 13 hour drive by himself. Also, traveling by air was too expensive as well. If he or I did not drive 13 straight hours coming to and fro, we had to take an extra day each way for a hotel. And what were we to do when I got there, leave immediately to come back? No, we had to stay another night.

The alternative to this was that he took the Crescent and I picked him up or dropped him off in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is just 1.5 hours away. The time saved (and actually money for the total trip), and the fact that the train is safer was a relief to us for years. In fact, I even took the Crescent back from there myself when I dropped off his car after graduation. So the point here is this was a fabulous way for us to have him travel back and forth during his college and post-college years. I would add one note. I tried to get him a roomette when I could but almost always they were fully booked. If the train was funded properly there should have been enough roomettes to go around.

A big thanks goes to Professor Steven Grado for sharing his story! NARP is looking for more stories like this 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 yet 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.


The Federal Railroad Administration released a record for decision and new plan for the NEC Future Project Wednesday. This will help drive project development by coordinating agency relationships and agreements to streamline the process for deciding which upgrades on the NEC must take place, as well as how to best maintain a state of “good repair” in the region. The FRA also outlined plans for increasing capacity and efficiency of commuter rail lines from Washington D.C. to Boston.

“Given the high cost projections of the recommendations in the NEC ROD and the reality of state budgets, the completion of the Tier 1 study will enable states to better prioritize which projects to pursue,” said FRA Deputy Administrator Heath Hall. “Through this effort, localities will have a clearer picture of how their projects will fit in with the rest of the Northeast Corridor.”“

The FRA completed the first tier of the environmental review process, which will help address priority projects faster. The NEC Future project will focus on the much needed issues in the Northeast Corridor. It will address issues like eliminating bottlenecks, expanding rail capacity, and improving travel times along 457 miles of tracks that service 820,000 passengers per weekday.

“Safe, reliable and efficient rail transportation is a vital part of our nation's infrastructure,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. "And expediting the project delivery process is key to delivering needed infrastructure more quickly."

Studies suggest the project could make the trip between Washington D.C. and New York City 35 minutes faster, and save an additional 45 minutes between New York and Boston. The project is expected to cost $153 billion.

Notably, the FRA’s plan did not include a controversial idea of creating an “inland” route to Boston through areas of Connecticut, such as Hartford and Old Lyme. That plan raised significant concern with residents and state officials who said the route would disrupt communities in the state.

The federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled in favor of freight railroads, who had appealed a Surface Transportation Board (STB) effort to define Amtrak on-time performance. The STB’s effort was part of an an investigation into delays when Amtrak passenger trains operate over privately owned freight railroad rights-of-way. Freight railroads challenged that action, with the Eighth Circuit framing the question before it:

“When Congress expressly delegates rulemaking authority in a regulatory sphere to one agency, and that delegation is declared unconstitutional, may a different agency provide regulatory guidance in the same sphere on its own initiative?”

The Eighth Circuit ruled “no,” and said, “[O]n-time in [Section] 213(a) means on-time performance as developed by the FRA and Amtrak [not the STB] under [the invalidated Section] 207(a). We therefore reject the Board’s interpretation of [Section] 213(a). Accordingly, we grant the [freight railroads’] petitions and vacate the Board’s Final Rule defining on-time performance.”


Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events


NARP was present when Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman spoke at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday. He said there is strong bipartisan support for Amtrak’s passenger rail network, but that a steady and secure funding source for the future is needed. “Amtrak is important to the country and needs to be well managed. We are now running it as a great company."

Moorman talked about safety culture and operational excellence as several of the key points he stresses every day. “We are focused on the customer experience and taking Amtrak to being great”

Long distance trains are Amtrak’s “political glue,” Moorman said, and the company has great support from rural towns and cities that are underserved by other forms of transportation. Discussing the aging fleet Moorman said, "We can take existing assets and make them more user friendly. There is a mission for long distance trains.” NARP is pleased to see that Moorman knows the value of the national network and is working to enhance the present network. Long term solutions, though, need to call for a creative plan to replace older equipment.

The Trump Administration has targeted Amtrak’s long distance network with a zero budget for 2018, but support is growing for continuing service in the U.S. House and Senate. Moorman went on to say the such an action would come at the expense of every sector of Amtrak business, negatively impact the system’s impressive cost recovery, and tie up capital investment in the North East Corridor. He said that while the long distance trains themselves cost about $500 Million annually to run, they earn only slightly less than that in revenue, and allow the burden of large fixed costs such as the reservation system to be distributed across a greater number of trains.

Major repairs are underway at Penn Station in New York City and are expected to continue until Labor Day. One newspaper has described work at Penn Station as the “Summer of Hell” for passengers. Moorman said that keeping passengers informed about outages at Penn Station makes a difference and “people will figure it out if they know what’s going on.”

Aging infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor is a major issue. Moorman said the tracks are OK but signal systems, overhead catenary, bridges and tunnels are old and in need of upgrades.

Addressing the Gateway project, Moorman said “I’m an optimist.” He thinks the project will get funded and that the Trump Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao understand the need for this investment.

The ex-Norfolk Southern chief said that our roads and airports also suffer from neglect and need major investment. “The #1 infrastructure sector in the U.S. that is in great shape is freight rail.”

Moorman will step down as CEO at the end of this year when Richard Anderson, former head of Delta Airlines, assumes the position. Moorman praised Anderson and will work with him during the interim for a smooth transition.

Penn Station commuters braced for the worst as repairs to the busiest train station in the U.S. kicked off Monday. So far the majority of commuters came to realize that Amtrak and the other transit agencies were prepared to handle the new schedule.

The first few days were considered a success by transit agency officials. NJ Transit and LIRR officials even said that ridership was actually up from what was expected from train lines that had to be rerouted during repair work. In anticipation of commuter confusion, officials from the LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak added station volunteers to direct passengers, offered coffee and donuts during the morning rush hour, and increased bus and ferry services.

Since construction began Monday, passengers at Penn Station have experienced minor delays, slight overcrowding, and some expected confusion, but overall they experienced a commute without any major problems as many of them arrived early in anticipation of some organized chaos.

Repairs are expected to last through August and end promptly on September 1 and Amtrak Co-CEO is confident their deadline will be met without a hitch.


#Rally4Trains Is Growing

The “Rally For Trains” movement is growing! More than 203,500 people have signed a petition to save long-distance passenger rail in America. Help us get to 210,000! A second petition has 6,000 signatures. If you haven’t yet had the chance, please add your name to the lists. Show Congress we are united for trains.

Remember, it is not too late to host a rally in your town. Email us at rally@narprail.org and we’ll send you everything you need, including posters, flyers, handouts, sample press releases and letters, and a list of media contacts. Keeping this issue front-and-center is important. Sharing pictures of rallies at your station or in your town, or just sharing your frustration over the short-sighted budget request, is an easy and free way to pitch in. 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!

As always, call 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. And, share the #Rally4Trains hashtag on your social media accounts.

[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.]


Florida’s Brightline train is on track to move towards phase two of its project as Martin County, Florida dropped the last of multiple legal suits against the company. All Aboard Florida will continue to receive $1.75 billion of tax-free bonds, which was the legal suit in question, for the railroad. Despite the legal battles that they faced, Brightline officials look forward to working with the Treasure Coast.

“Brightline continues progress on its Phase 2 extension to Orlando. We look forward to continuing to work with the communities in the Treasure Coast, especially on partnerships with quiet zones, similar to our efforts in South Florida," the company said in an email. "These are important steps forward as we build a transportation system for Florida’s future.”

Brightline is expected to begin limited service between Miami and West Palm beach later this fall, while the addition of the Orlando stop is still several years away.

“We are incredibly excited to see that Brightline is back on track and making continued progress,” Jim Mathews, NARP President and CEO said. “Brightline will change the way Floridians think about travel and it will become a primary mode of transportation in the sunshine state.

A bipartisan coalition of more than 50 Virginia state legislators spoke out in favor of trains, urging the Commonwealth’s congressional delegation to fund Amtrak. The White House’s proposed budget cuts would eliminate 50 percent of Virginia’s train service. Budget cuts would specifically cut 66 percent of Charlottesville’s train service, 60 percent of Petersburg’s service, 50 percent in Lynchburg, and cities like Staunton, Clifton Forge, and Danville would lose service completely.

Virginians for High Speed Rail, a passenger rail advocacy group, says the budget cuts would add more than 714,000 additional trips on roadways which would have a dramatic affect on carbon emissions. The additional trips would burn four million gallons of fuel and release nearly 79 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air annually.


#SummerByRail Kicks Off At End Of The Month

Mark your calendars because July 31 is only a few weeks away and that’s when we’ll kick off this year’s #SummerByRail journey. NARP interns Victoria Principato and Caitlin Boyle will depart New York City for a very unique 27-day “road trip” by train and bike to 22 cities between the U.S. and Canada.

During their trip, both interns will also use multiple modes of transportation, including the primary mode which will be Amtrak trains, from east coast to west, and back again. They will bring their bicycles on the trip to explore each of the cities they visit. While in each town, the two interns will ride buses, streetcars, ferries, and ride-sharing services--to name a few--in order to explore each city.

The two interns will visit Burlington, VT; Montreal, QU; Toronto, ON; Niagara Falls ON/NY; Buffalo, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; New Orleans, LA and many more. The last leg of the trip, starting in Hattiesburg, MS, will see Boyle and Principato conclude their travels in Washington, D.C. on August 26.

Already Boyle and Principato have been sharing their journey and insights on the trip on the “Summer By Rail” blog, as well as on Instagram and Twitter, and will continue to so anyone can follow along with their travels. To get their updates on social media, audiences can use the hashtag: #summerbyrail. People can also follow the adventure at Facebook.com/narprail and YouTube.com/narprail.


The restoration of Amtrak service in the Gulf Coast is an important issue for NARP, the Southern Rail Commission, and the millions of people who live in the area. It’s even a topic of discussion for railroad company CSX, which owns most of the tracks that would carry the train from New Orleans to Orlando, a topic that came to light most recently in a Letter to the Editor from David Dech, Assistant Vice President for Passenger Operations at CSX Transportation.

Dech said in his letter that “CSX genuinely wishes to continue partnering in the successes of Gulf Coast communities,” but several issues may prevent the restoration from taking place. Dech’s list includes:

  • The train ran on time only seven percent of the time in its last year of operation, and that performance would violate current federal regulations, which requires the service to run on schedule at each station at least 80 percent of the time.

  • There are 17 drawbridges along the route where essential maritime traffic gets priority over trains. As a result, it is virtually impossible to design a service that would reliably meet customer expectations or comply with the law.

  • The working group studying the return of service failed to adequately consider the cost of installing Positive Train Control technology and, instead, proposes seeking a waiver to avoid installation.

Although Dech points out several areas that must be addressed, what Dech’s letter does not include are reasons why some of these issues took place. One of the principal causes of poor on-time performance was due to CSX track maintenance. This forced as many as one out of every three scheduled trips to be canceled. With the maintenance largely complete and track segments rebuilt, performance should improve and ridership will follow, as it has in every other instance in which on-time performance has been addressed.

NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews previously said, “Since 2005, NARP has consistently called for restoration of service between New Orleans and Orlando. Our members have made the case for its renewal to their state and local governments, and we have made the case here in Washington.”

NARP knows that the demand for the Gulf Coast service is there, and was part of the team that worked to develop the inspection train of the route. Seven of the 12 communities between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, whose service was suspended post-Katrina, have no air service, and four have no intercity bus service, leaving those four areas without any public transportation option.

For one of the busiest transit systems in the country, $1.367 billion can go a long way. NJ Transit’s board this week approved that amount for the agency’s capital program for FY 2018. The funding will contribute to NJ Transit’s efforts to implement positive train control, as well as rehab railroad bridges, replace tracks, upgrade signals and repair overhead lines and electric substations. The program also allocates money for state-of-good-repair efforts on NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor line, which is its most used rail line.


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


Once it became evident that the state of New York did not own specific parcels of land in which it had looked to remove the railroad tracks to replace them with a recreational trail, a lawsuit was filed against the state by the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society. The group operates tourist trains under the Adirondack Scenic Railroad name. Though the judge reviewing the lawsuit has not made a decision yet on the case, the state is looking to purchase various areas of land in order to complete the conversion of rail to trail. State officials now plan to use Environmental Protection Fund money to acquire a section of its proposed Adirondack rail trail that currently is owned by North Country Community College (NCCC). NCCC President Steve Tyrell said that college’s attorney was in contact with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and was putting together the paperwork for the purchase on behalf of the counties and the college.

Amtrak is considering making the space, in between seats on passenger rail trains smaller, in order to accommodate for more riders in a new 'economy' class service coach level at a reduced price.. Amtrak Co-CEO Wick Moorman said that if they go through with this, there will be a tighter fit on Amtrak’s trains. Current coach seating spacing, which is extremely generous compared to the airlines, would also continue to be offered on all trains.

"We are looking at doing some creative things in terms of creating an economy class," Moorman said at the National Press Club talk in Washington.

Amtrak is currently studying the idea but hasn’t made any final decisions just yet.

Love comics or thoroughbred racing? Planning to travel to San Diego for either, or maybe both? Amtrak has added capacity and extra trains to the Pacific Surfliner in order to help meet transportation demand in San Diego between July 19 and July 23. Those dates mark the San Diego Comic-Con International and the beginning of summer racing at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

Visit the Pacific Surfliner blog for additional info, and tips on how to avoid peak trains. You can also follow @PacSurfliners on Twitter for status updates.


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.


For those of you in Southern California..... Summer Train Fest at Union Station in Los Angeles Saturday, July 15 12:00 - 6:00 pm, where vintage trains and engines will be on display. Enjoy your weekend!

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