Senate Committee Approves Budget; MTA Announces Two-Phase Stabilization Plan; Trump Creates Advisory Council; #SummerByRail Kicks Off Monday
July 28, 2017
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Transportation, Amtrak Budget Gains Steam in Senate
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an FY2018 transportation budget yesterday, providing $1.6 billion for Amtrak and $12.1 billion for transit.
The committee’s action has established a bipartisan, bicameral consensus on the necessity of increasing investment in intercity rail that has been tantalizingly out of reach in the past few years. It's a feat that is all the more striking for its rejection of the Trump Administration’s calls to slash spending and eliminate long distance trains.
Yet there were clear differences in how the House and the Senate chose to prioritize different segments of the system.
House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) came out decisively in support of easing the maintenance backlog on the Northeast Corridor, targeting funds toward capital grant programs tailored towards the Gateway Project, which would address the Hudson River tunnel chokepoint between New Jersey and New York City.
Senate Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS), meanwhile, funded more broadly national programs—albeit with less of an emphasis on intercity rail. The Senate THUD Committee adhered more to the FAST Act funding structure, which includes funding for state-led rail projects and restoration projects (though at lower levels than authorized). Cochran has also prioritized the restoration of passenger rail service between New Orleans and Orlando.
Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement: $92.5 million ($24.5 million more than fiscal year 2017, $67.5 million more than the President’s budget request, but $137.5 less than authorized by the FAST Act) to support implementation of positive train control, station improvements, and rail grade crossing projects.
Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grants: $26 million ($149 million less than authorized and $424 million less than the House bill) to upgrade aging infrastructure, a “key concern on Amtrak’s network”.
Rail Restoration and Enhancement Grants: $5 million ($16 million less than authorized and $5 million more than the House bill) to connect more communities to better service on the national rail network.
It also restored $550 million for the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants cut by the House, and funded New Starts at $2.133 billion—$380 million higher than House levels. This program has funded many worthy projects, including intercity rail, transit, freight rail, and ports. That means state rail agencies will have to compete with other modes to secure funding for their train corridors.
The overall result in the Senate is more funding for mass transit broadly, with less guaranteed towards Amtrak—specifically for the NEC.
Both the Senate and the House transportation funding bills will see floor action after the recess in September.
Stories From Passengers: Vivian Schmucker
I live in Goshen, IN and depend on Amtrak's Capitol Limited train to visit my parents in who live in Louisville, OH. I get on Amtrak in Elkhart, IN and get off in Alliance, OH where my parents meet me. I can't drive because of vision impairment, and Amtrak enables me to travel independently to visit my parents.
The Elkhart station is easy to get to by public transportation, and the Alliance station is convenient for my parents to pick me up. If Amtrak service was eliminated, I would have to ride Greyhound, which is much less convenient because it is not as easy to get to the Elkhart bus station by public transportation, and I'd have to change buses in Cleveland, Ohio, making my trip to visit my parents a lot longer.
By the way, it is much comfortable to travel by Amtrak than by Greyhound.
I hope President Trump's budget cuts to Amtrak don't pass Congress.
A big thanks goes to Vivian for sharing her story! NARP is looking for more stories like this about the National Network to help us fight the White House's proposed budget for FY 2018. 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 email@example.com.
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 Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) subway system in New York City is a vital lifeline for millions of people, but Governor Andrew Cuomo said decades of underinvestment, deferred maintenance and surging ridership is, "wholly unacceptable.” He said he expects the MTA to "address the fundamental issues plaguing the transit system and overhaul the organizational structure of the MTA."
With that in mind, MTA Chairman Joe Chairman Joe Lhota announced this week an immediate $836 million stabilization plan. The initial Phase One plan, which Lhota said will be completed within a year, will include:
- repairs and cleaning of subway trains and stations,
- added personnel and longer trains,
- more countdown clocks and clearer service updates,
- enhance signal and track maintenance,
- improve reliability,
- improve safety,
- enhance communication,
- and the launch of a new management group.
Phase Two of the MTA overhaul will focus on modernizing the subway system. Lhota said the $8 billion project will, “get it out of the late 19th century and get it into the 21st century quickly.”
Lhota also said that the plan will take place without raising fares. The current five-year MTA capital plan, which covers upkeep for the subways, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, plus other pieces of the transit system, is about $29 billion. The city has pledged $2.5 billion, New York State $8.3 billion, and Cuomo recently pledged an additional $1 billion.
As part of the effort to clean trash from New York’s subway lines, workers have been provided a new tool: two, new, high-powered vacuums. The vacuums are a response to the state of emergency declared by Governor Cuomo for the subway system. They help collect trash that falls from platforms to the tracks and can cause fires. Last year, the subway experienced 638 rail fires from trash.
Governor Cuomo met with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao behind closed doors in Washington, DC, on Wednesday to argue for federal funding for the Hudson Tunnel project. Cuomo said he is specifically looking for assurances that federal funding will be provided in order to start construction on the tunnel, which he said will take 10 years to complete.
Prior to the meeting, Cuomo said, “There has to be a sense of urgency” to fund and build the tunnel, which is a major component of the Gateway Program and the Northeast Corridor. The Obama administration had pledged $10 billion to build the new tunnel under the Hudson River with New York State and New Jersey each paying $5 billion, Cuomo said. Cuomo also said he “would like to see the federal government honor that commitment . . . there is no backup plan. The state cannot make up $10 billion to build a Gateway tunnel.”
“Both New York state and New York City are looking to the future with recent efforts behind the Hudson Tunnel and new plans for the MTA’s subway line,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “These efforts and plans are examples to the federal government and other states on the importance of prioritizing funding public transit systems and future projects. With appropriately funded transit systems in the Northeast Corridor or elsewhere, jobs will be created, economies will flourish and millions of people will have access to affordable transit options.”
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, August 12 - 11:30am - All Aboard Washington Picnic Meeting - Lacey, WA - Rainier Vista Park
Saturday, August 12 - 12:00noon - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Utica, NY Union Station - Trackside Restaurant
Saturday, August 19 - 11:00am to 3:00pm - 2017 New England Regional NARP Meeting - Springfield, MA - Sheraton Monarch Hotel
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
Elected officials gathered in Millbrae, CA, last week for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate Caltrain’s electrification project. Only a few months ago the project faced an uncertain future due to a lack of federal funding. Now, Gov. Jerry Brown, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and others, turned over dirt at the Millbrae station. Work on the project began in June and is expected to be completed in 2021. The first service with electric trains between San Francisco and San Jose will be greener, faster and more reliable than the current fleet of diesel trains.
“We are very excited for the future of Caltrain, as well as high-speed rail in California,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “NARP had previously urged U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to fund the electrification project, and we are glad to see that the federal government came through to support this important project.”
Caltrain had expected a $647 million federal grant from the Department of Transportation, but opposition against high-speed rail from California’s Republicans encouraged the Trump administration to withhold approval of the grant. Secretary Chao eventually released the grant after California officials made a full-court lobbying effort, with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein refusing to support nominees to Chao’s department until she approved the project.
This week marks the halfway point for Amtrak’s “Summer of Renewal” for New York’s Penn Station. Steven Young, deputy general manager of Amtrak’s New York Division said, work on the station is 50 percent complete and is on pace to be completed by September 1. The work has focused on maintenance and repairs to the station’s 21 tracks, with three tracks closed for work at a time. The prolonged outages have allowed Amtrak to make considerable progress in the project, which includes replacing aged track components west of Penn’s platforms.
“There was notable concern raised by commuters, as well as elected officials in New York, regarding the repairs at Penn Station this summer,” said Jim Mathews. “But Amtrak officials from start of the repairs to now, have noted that work has been moving along smoothly and without any major incidents for passengers on Amtrak, NJ Transit or LIRR.”
Even Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) chairman Joe Lhota, a frequent critic of Amtrak, commended the repair efforts. Work at Penn Station is expected to continue through the end of August.
SORRY...Due to unavoidable circumstancs, the #Rally4Trains schedueld in Bay St. Louis, MS this Sunday, July 30, has been cancelled!
At the end of last week, President Trump issued an executive order that would create an advisory council for infrastructure, housed under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The council is said to include up to 15 members, selected by Trump, that will focus on areas such as construction, labor and finance for U.S. infrastructure projects. The group will take a look at the next 10 years and “study the scope and effectiveness of, and make findings and recommendations to the President regarding, federal government funding, support, and delivery of infrastructure projects in several sectors, including surface transportation, aviation, ports and waterways, water resources, renewable energy generation, electricity transmission, broadband, pipelines, and other such sectors as determined by the council," the executive order read.
“This is a notable step by the President that represents a desire to focus on infrastructure projects in the U.S.,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “We hope that the council will take a look at important, shovel-ready passenger rail projects that will help millions across the U.S.”
Though Trump only just announced the advisory council on infrastructure, nonprofit group, Food and Water Watch, filed a lawsuit against the President. The lawsuit claims that President Trump, along with Elaine Chao, U.S. DOT Secretary, and Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, created the council without properly disclosing their actions to the public. The lawsuit specifically states that the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a law that mandates public notice of an advisory panel’s members and meetings, was not followed by the Administration.
The Food and Water Watch suit claims that the Trump Administration, “has adopted a pattern and practice of establishing advisory committees, largely populated by President Trump’s business associates and friends, to advise him and agency secretaries on economic and business-related matters.”
Notably, though Trump has solicited policy advice from the infrastructure council, the group was not formally established by the White House until last week.
#SummerByRail Kicks Off Monday in New York City
On Monday, July 31, we’re kicking off this year’s #SummerByRail journey in New York City with NARP interns Victoria Principato and Caitlin Boyle. The dynamic duo will explore a bit of the city, visit Penn Station’s brand new West End Concourse, and take a CitiBike tour before departing for Burlington, VT.
Overall, Victoria and Caitlin will take part in a very unique, 27-day “road trip” by train and bike to 22 cities between the US 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, QC; 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 will see Boyle and Principato conclude their travels in Washington, DC on August 26.
Already Victoria and Caitlin have been sharing their preparation for 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.
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, and other state officials announced that a new, commuter rail Hartford Line will begin running in May 2018. The line will run between the state capitol and New Haven, which will take about 45 minutes, and to New York City in just under three hours.
"This is a transformative transportation project and one that our residents are highly anticipating coming online," Gov. Malloy said as the 62-mile line will include 17 daily round trips between New Haven and Hartford, with 12 of those trains continuing on to Springfield. Trains will be available in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin and Hartford every 45 minutes during morning and evening peak hours and every 90 minutes otherwise. The $623 million project includes $432.2 million in state funds and another $190.9 million from the federal government.
NARP Issues Comments to USDOT on Infrastructure Policy and Regulations
July 24, 2017
As the largest national membership advocacy organization for train and rail transit passengers, the National Association of Railroad Passengers has worked since its inception in 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the United States. Today, this effort is supported by NARP’s more than 28,000 members.
NARP appreciates the opportunity to provide some comments to the Department regarding regulatory and administrative burdens that, once relieved could have a real and immediate positive impact on the safety and capacity of our national passenger rail system. The primary areas of concern are related to Domestic Content requirements and project environmental reviews.
Growing American Manufacturing
NARP applauds the Administration’s focus on supporting our domestic industries, and we agree that federal investment in public infrastructure projects provide an optimal opportunity to implement policies that support and expand domestic manufacturing capacity. To best accommodate and facilitate projects where the federal investment is minimal, or which are privately-developed, the application of requirements for domestically-manufactured goods and materials should be reflective of the level of federal investment and informed by the extent to which the project delivers other public policy objectives.
The ability of passenger rail projects to increase access to employment and education opportunities, generally enhance personal and professional productivity and generate economic activity around stations is well understood. The measure of a particular project’s “public good” should reasonably be broadened to consider positive public policy outcomes in addition to its impact on domestic manufacturing. It is unnecessarily onerous to require private debt or state or local tax dollars used to finance a project, for example, to be spent towards achieving federal policy objectives.
A project’s contribution to the Department’s other objectives, including public safety, enhancing the environment, enhancing rail service to small communities or rural areas and alleviating rail capacity problems should be considered in concert with the Administration’s proper focus on supporting domestic manufacturing capacity.
Project Environmental Review
Earnest efforts to improve upon the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) have been underway since before the Act was passed. Always at stake in such efforts is the critical balance among addressing environmental concerns and ensuring adequate public input while facilitating the timely delivery of projects. Unlike highways and transit systems, our national passenger rail network is almost entirely privately owned. As the Administration contemplates additional private investment in railroad projects, significant opportunities exist to make the regulatory approval of such projects much more predictable and attractive to non-federal dollars. Specifically, consideration should be given to the structure of the Federal Permitting Dashboard.
The environmental review and approval of major infrastructure projects is notoriously onerous and unpredictable. As envisioned, the Federal Permitting Dashboard is an innovative, bi-partisan idea to insert some accountability and predictability to the environmental review and permitting process for large projects. The Dashboard was initially envisioned as an instrument of the White House to enforce agreed-upon deadlines and instill order and adherence to review schedules when multiple agencies are involved in a project’s review. Rather than being coordinated by the White House, which has government-wide jurisdiction, the Dashboard for passenger rail projects now resides within the USDOT, which has experienced understandable challenges in enforcing deadlines agreed to by other Departments.
The Dashboard for passenger rail projects should be placed again with the White House where it can again be used as an effective tool of project management, adding needed schedule adherence and public accountability. This simple administrative change will also relieve a burden currently placed with USDOT and give the White House greater visibility and authority to intercede when agencies fail to meet their own deadlines or encounter challenges.
NARP remains a strong advocate for our nation’s millions of rail passengers. To that end, we also strive to serve as a resource to our state and federal policymakers as they create the rules that will help improve the safety and capacity of our national passenger rail network. Thank you again for the opportunity to provide these comments. We stand by to assist in any way as these comments and others are considered.
The Washington Post reports that, Montgomery County granted legal permission for the MTA to build and operate the Purple Line light-rail project on county-owned land for at least 70 years, plus two 25-year extensions. The County Council’s staff recommended that the panel approve the agreement for construction and operation of the line before its seven-week summer break. The vote signals that State officials are moving quickly to get the project ready for construction, depending on when, or if, $900 million in federal funding is approved. The project recently won a major legal victory, though a lawsuit from local opponents is still pending. MTA officials have said they will not begin construction until the grant is secured for the $2 billion project.
Despite the progress being made for the Purple Line’s future, a lawsuit opposing the proposal is still under review. The appeals court granted a stay, which restored the project’s federal approval, but it has yet to issue an opinion on Leon’s ruling regarding Metro’s issues. In addition, the Friends of Capital Crescent Trail have sent a letter to USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao, explaining why the Purple Line should not receive federal funding. In its letter, the trail group said the project’s high cost and its potential to siphon away funds from other needed transit improvements such as fixing Metro were reasons why Chao shouldn’t support the Purple Line.
Although the group sent a letter to Chao, it still looks hopeful that the MTA will receive federal support. Gov. Larry Hogan met with Chao in March to discuss the State’s need for federal funding for the Purple Line project. The Trump administration said federal funding was still being considered for the project in budget documents released in May while Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said they will work to secure the funding.
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
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) invited reporters to look at their newest train cars which are being tested during regular operating hours. BART is in the process of replacing its train fleet with 775 new cars, with a focus on the passenger. The new trains operate quietly, offer overhead air conditioning, a digital display board, and its new blue-and-green color scheme is vibrant and inviting. Although testing the cars is already a year behind schedule, BART officials are optimistic that the time taken to fully test and investigate their train cars will pay off in the long run.
“We’re doing more testing on-site here at BART than other transit agencies would because our tracks are wider than standard,” said Assistant General Manager for Operations Paul Oversier. “Transit agencies with standard width tracks do a lot of testing at the factory before new cars are shipped out. We don’t have that option so we are putting our cars through the paces in the same environment in which they need to perform. In that sense, it’s an advantage.”
BART intends to have all 775 new cars fully operational by the end of 2021.
Travel by Train to NARP’s 2017 Passenger Rail EXPO And 50th Anniversary Celebration
Don’t miss out! There’s still time to book your seat on the PV Dearing following our 50th Anniversary Celebration and November Passenger Rail EXPO in Chicago. Space is available from Huntington, West Virginia to Chicago on the Cardinal and from Chicago to Washington after the meeting on the Capitol Ltd. The Cardinal will arrive in Chicago on November 2nd. If you have any questions about pricing and accommodations please reach out to Betsy Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oklahoma State Legislatures will hold a hearing to discuss the potential revival of passenger rail service between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. That service has been out of use for roughly 50 years. The open hearing will take place on September 6 at 9 a.m. in the OKC State Capitol Building, room 512A.
Mark your calendars! We encourage all NARP members in the area and those who feel strongly about passenger rail to attend.
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.
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.