Hotline #1,033

Amtrak’s Coscia Urges Gateway Forward; Transit Services Begin After Irma; Dallas City Council Supports New Rail Projects; Amtrak Releases New Campaign

We Need Your ‘Nose For News’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Bob Brady, bbrady@xenophonstrategies.com, and we will continue to share it with the membership. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put on the website here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.


Following the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida, public transit agencies are beginning to restore transit options for people. This includes taxi services, buses and rail - though Amtrak service is still suspended. The options that are now available to people who need to travel include:

  • Metrorail in the Miami-Dade area resumed its regular service schedule Wednesday.

  • Metrobus service is available on routes: 3, 8, 11, 40, 71, 72, 75, 77, 88, 104, 207, 208 and S.

  • Tri-Rail trains began to move once again after 72 miles of track have been cleared of debris, crossing gates are re-installed, and power has been restored to operate the train stations

  • YellowCab taxi service resumed Monday morning.

  • Broward County Transit and PalmTran bus services resumed Tuesday with a regular schedule from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber began operating on a limited schedule around the state due to road conditions, gas limitations and curfews.

CSX has worked to re-open the two Amtrak routes through the Carolinas and Georgia, allowing for the New York to Savannah Palmetto to return to service today and for the Silver Star to operate modified service from New York to as far south as Jacksonville, also starting today. At this time, the Silver Meteor, between Miami and New York City, and the Auto Train between Lorton, VA and Sanford, FL remain cancelled.

Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia said that there is “no time to waste,” when it comes to striking a deal to develop a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Coscia spoke at the Association for a Better New York, and said that a deal between federal and local officials on the $20 billion Gateway Program is vital for passengers traveling by rail between New York City and New Jersey. The New Jersey's Portal Bridge and the current tunnel, which is more than 100 years old and was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, cannot meet the future needs of passengers and economic demands of the Northeast Corridor.

“In the 21st century, we can’t allow 10 percent of America’s (gross domestic product) that this region creates to rely on something so fragile,” Coscia told the Association for a Better New York. “We have no time to waste in solving this problem.”

Coscia also said that he expects construction of the new tunnel to begin in six months, and "Building added capacity now is important to create a transportation solution for the next 50 years, not the next five years."

New York and New Jersey officials have encouraged the Trump White House to support the deal agreed to under President Obama, which was to cover half the cost. Last week, President Trump met with Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Chuck Schumer, among other officials, about the project. Attendees said the meeting with Trump was positive, and it appeared that Trump would support the new Hudson River tunnel and was open to covering half the project costs.

“It is great to hear that Amtrak and other officials in New York and New Jersey are optimistic that the Gateway project will move forward under the Trump administration,” said NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews, who has previously contacted the White House to support the project. “What we need though is concrete steps that can be taken sooner than later. The Hudson River tunnel is a lifeline for the entire country and the country’s economy, and it needs to be supported with urgency from the federal government.”


Stories From Passengers: Larry and Becky Schneider, El Paso, TX

Most of the country’s movers and shakers just don’t get that there’s more to rail infrastructure than just the NE corridor and California. For some reason beyond my comprehension, trains are expected to make money while at the same time highways and airports are not held to the same standard. Not only do highways not cover their costs, the Highway Trust fund is quite literally “bleeding” taxpayer money.

It’s just not fair that those who oppose long distance routes look at them from origination to termination in determining the cost of the route, rather than the cost of what is more likely used by passengers -- usually 300 miles or less on 2,000 mile routes like the Sunset Ltd. or Texas Eagle. The Sunset Ltd has seen approximately a 10% increase in ridership from 2014 to 2016.

I work at a travel agency and would love to be able to sell real train travel like we sell in Canada and Europe. Trains help to not only reduce congestion on our highways, they are popular tourist attractions, provide great learning experiences as well as jobs, and are a wonderful, magical, way to travel watching our countryside go by! With all the horrors people are experiencing when flying, shouldn’t there be a viable alternative? When people learn about the perks of first-class travel (sleepers, meals included, showers, access to first-class lounges in major stations, etc.,) most have no idea. Amtrak could be described as a "Land Cruise," or a "Hotel on Wheels." I know that you are aware of all of the benefits of “scheduled, on-time” train travel because you shared with me that you used to take the train.

The bottom line in the upcoming transportation budget considerations is who is more important and which towns across America matter? Of the over 31 million passengers who use Amtrak in a given year, 19 million of those will never set foot on a Northeast Corridor train. Aren’t they just as worthy when it comes to investing taxpayer dollars?

A big thanks goes to the Larry and Becky for sharing their 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 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.


Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) want to expand a competitive grant program to encourage cities across the country to spur innovation and new technology in transportation systems. The proposal builds upon the Smart City Challenge from the Obama Administration, which provided federal funding to innovative transit projects in mid-sized cities. Columbus, OH, got $40 million in funding last year, which went towards deploying three electric self-driving shuttles to link a new bus rapid transit center to a retail district.

“It is great that the federal government is supporting cities as they look at transit in new ways,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “Funding is always an issue for cities, and it limits what can be done to improve transit options. This will help encourage local transportation planners to think outside the box.”

If approved, the bill would formally authorize the competitive grant program, expand its eligibility, and set aside funding for communities of various sizes. Large and mid-sized cities would get two awards annually, which would be capped at $80 million. Rural communities and regional partnerships would also receive two grants per year totaling up to $20 million total.

With $50,000 provided by Microsoft, a study to launch a high-speed train between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. is even closer to reality. The $50,000 is in addition to $300,000 that was allocated by the Washington State Legislature to conduct a feasibility study on the line, which will now include a stop in Portland. Ahead of this year’s Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said that the study will develop a vision for the project, which first gained steam at last year’s event. The study will also outline the location of stops, train speeds, technology and times of trains.

This year’s conference focused heavily on the transportation needs of the area and how demand for transit will be vital by 2040. King County Executive Dow Constantine said that the Vancouver area’s population is estimated to grow from 2.2 million to 3.4 million by 2040, while the population of Seattle metro area will reach 5 million people by 2040.

Governor Inslee said he expects meaningful progress on the study will be made by next year, and that high speed rail could alleviate traffic issues, while simultaneously boosting Washington and B.C. economies. “High speed rail, you cannot overstate what that would mean for the economies of both regions,” he said.

A new report by nonprofit think-tank SPUR says that California cities in the San Joaquin Valley will become bedroom communities following the development of high-speed rail in the state. The group’s report supports the idea that high-speed rail could increase the disparity between wealthier communities along the coast and regions of the central valley that have seen high unemployment rates in recent years. SPUR said that the way to avoid further segregation of the communities is to get involvement from state and local officials. This would entail officials resisting market pressures that favor single-family homes sprawled across former farm and pasture land. In addition, officials will have to focus on increasing and supporting local transit options near the high-speed rail stations to encourage denser development and offer viable transportation alternatives in the auto-dominated region.

“This is our only chance to really fundamentally change the trajectory of the economy, particularly for these parts of California that have been left out of so much of the economic boom that has been experienced on the coast,” said Egon Terplan, author of the report. “Getting these details right over the next couple of years (while) this system is still under construction, is really a legacy we want to leave for future generations of California.”

Caltrans is an example of how to move forward to avoid the pitfall of creating bedroom communities. Caltrans officials are now developing a 2018 state rail plan, which will take a comprehensive look at how to integrate high-speed rail with local and regional public transit. The goal of the plan is to make each system in the statewide network work more efficiently and connect passengers.


Registration is filling fast for NARP’s 2017 RAIL NATION CHICAGO Passenger Advocacy EXPO And 50th Anniversary Celebration this November in Chicago, IL

REGISTER HERE TODAY!

  • Thursday, November 2 to Sunday, November 5, 2017

  • Don’t Miss Out...Four days packed with an exciting array of presentations, speakers, panels, exhibits, tours, excursions and events highlighting the future of passenger rail in the United States and celebrating NARP’s 50th Anniversary. You’ll hear DIRECTLY from leaders shaping the future of passenger rail, here in the U.S. and worldwide!

  • An Amtrak Culinary Demonstration, a passenger-rail jobs fair and fun exhibits, too!

  • Fabulous 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner on Saturday Evening, November 4

  • Host Hotel: Millennium Knickerbocker - E. Walton Place at N. Michigan Ave. Make Your Hotel Reservations HERE! Don’t Delay...Discounted hotel reservations must be made by October 3rd!

  • Visit the Event Webpage for complete information, the up-to-date agenda & details Or call the NARP Office 202-408-8362 for assistance.

Confirmed And Invited Speakers:

REGISTER HERE TODAY!

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 bnelson@narprail.org.


The Dallas City Council made significant strides in bringing new passenger rail options to downtown. The city council gave unanimous support to plans that would see a subway line built under Commerce Street, as well as a new streetcar line that would connect directly to the two current lines in downtown. To fund the projects, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit is seeking federal support as the agency also continues design work.

The proposed subway line is estimated $1.3 billion, and is projected to provide relief for passengers that currently ride the four existing DART light rail lines, all of which run on the same downtown tracks. Building the subway under Commerce is one of three options that were still under consideration after years of planning. The two other options include running the line beneath Pacific Avenue or one block south under Elm Street. The streetcar is estimated at $92 million, and it would link the existing streetcars in Uptown to those that run from Union Station to the Bishop Arts District in north Oak Cliff. Two other options also exist for the streetcar, which include a Main Street alignment and a Young Street alignment.

With a new marketing campaign and four commercials, Amtrak is encouraging travelers to “Break the Travel Quo” by traveling by train. According to a press release issued by Amtrak, “‘Break the Travel Quo’ takes a lighthearted approach to push against the realities of air and car travel that have become par for the course, juxtaposing commonplace scenarios against the comfort and convenience of Amtrak.” The realities of flying for example, include rules and restrictions on electronics, Wi-Fi charges, additional fees, and ever-shrinking legroom.

At the same time, the campaign showcases the pros of taking the train, which includes allowing passengers to bring up to four pieces of luggage for free, free Wi-Fi, the use of phones and electronic devices at all times, the ability to travel with small pets on many trains, spacious seats with ample legroom, and no middle seat.

Amtrak’s President and co-CEO Richard Anderson said in the release, “We’re excited about this campaign because it showcases what we know our customers love about rail travel: comfort, convenience and a premium experience.”

The four videos are available on Amtrak’s YouTube page.


#Rally4Trains Fights Off Attack

Our advocacy efforts this summer have helped give Congress courage to defeat attacks on the national rail network. Congress passed a short-term fix to keep the government open until December 8. But, we need a long-term solution. As the full Senate takes up their version of the transportation budget, we need YOU to continue to engage on social media using the #Rally4Trains!

Sharing pictures at your station or in your town on Facebook or Instagram 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!

Another way to amplify your voice is to join more than 210,000 people who have signed a petition to save long-distance passenger rail in America. We are now looking to get 225,000 signatures!

As always, you can call Congress at: 202-224-2131, and tell them you support funding rail in America. That number will allow you to connect with the people you elected to represent you in Washington. Or, email them by visiting the www.townswithouttrains.com website, and clicking the “Contact Congress” button.

[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.]


Maryland Governor Larry Hogan extended an offer to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser to help save D.C.’s troubled Metro system. Governor Hogan said in a letter to Governor McAuliffe and Mayor Bowser that he would offer an additional $500 million over four years if the others, along with the federal government, agreed to do the same. Although Hogan extended the offer, none of the other parties have said they would move forward with providing Metro with the funding.

“The needs of the Metro system are immediate and overwhelming,” Hogan wrote in the detailed, four-page letter. “Given the current crisis, the State of Maryland is prepared to invest an additional $500 million in increased Metro funding over the next four years if the Commonwealth of Virginia, the District of Columbia and the federal government all commit to do the same.”

Metro officials and other regional leaders supported Hogan’s actions and said his offer was an important first step toward reaching consensus on funding, although no permanent solution to Metro’s recent operational troubles.

It has been 20 years since Amtrak’s Texas Eagle train service was nearly permanently cut, but widespread public support for the train has seen it continue and thrive. The 20-year anniversary of the line’s saving has been recognized by Texas Rail Advocates, which said in a press release that the Texas Eagle’ schedule was deleted from timetables and the reservation centers would not take any bookings. But in 1997, mayors, councils, various officials and interested citizens along the route from San Antonio to Chicago formed a coalition called TEMPO, the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization. TEMPO petitioned to keep the Texas Eagle running, and it was successful beyond expectations.

Texas Eagle runs seven days a week and over the years ridership and revenue has continued to increase. This year, the Texas Eagle was the #1 performing Amtrak national network train for the first 10 months of the company’s fiscal year. A 20-year celebration was held at the St. Louis Union Station hotel last weekend to honor those that not only saved the train but continue to work with all interested parties at every station in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri to promote and enhance the service. Honorees included former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, then Governor George W. Bush and former Texas Transportation Chairman David Laney.


Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events


Judge Thomas Gehret dismissed the case against Brandon Bostian, the Amtrak engineer involved in the May 12, 2015, derailment in Philadelphia that resulted in eight deaths and 200 injuries. The case was brought forward by a victim’s family after city prosecutors in May decided not to press criminal charges against Bostian. Both Judge Gehret and the city prosecutors agreed that evidence from the derailment pointed to an accident as opposed to negligence. Bostian’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said his speeding through a curve at twice the speed limit was a momentary lapse from a safety-conscious engineer who had lost his bearings after being distracted by an incident with a nearby train. In addition, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation completed last year found no evidence that Bostian was impaired or using a cellphone.

Since the derailment, Bostian has been on unpaid administrative leave and is now suing Amtrak, alleging he was left disoriented or unconscious when something struck his train before it derailed. NTSB investigators have said nothing struck the train.

After review of four bids to develop Minnesota’s Southwest Corridor light rail system, the Metropolitan Council rejected all proposals. Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff said that all four bids to construct the 14.5-mile line from Minneapolis and Eden Prairie were too high in cost and the companies did not meet all the requirements of the project.

"In addition to price, there were also responsiveness issues. So for a bid to be responsive or non-responsive, it means they did not meet all of the requirements of the bid documents," Tchourumoff said.

Overall, the project is estimated at $1.8 billion, which includes rolling stock, land acquisition and all other non-construction aspects of the project. However, bids for construction came in at half the estimated cost, which was too large a portion of the projects funding. Following the dismissal of the proposals, the project will be delayed four months and push the expected opening date into 2022. The Met Council will put the project back out for bid in October, with a deadline of December and a decision scheduled for March 2018.

The Rail Runner, a commuter rail line in New Mexico, is at risk of having service cut due to the costs of installing Positive Train Control (PTC). The technology, which can remotely monitor and stop trains that are speeding, could cost the state $50 million to implement on 96 miles of rail line. Officials also said that the Rail Runner is highly unlikely to meet the federal deadline of December 31, 2018, even if the rail line had the money. Due to the limitations of cost and deadline, Rio Metro Regional Transit District officials developed a plan that would reduce the number of daily trains.

In 2008, federal lawmakers passed a bill mandating the installation of PTC, with an original deadline of 2015. That deadline was extended to December 31, 2018. Although the law was passed in 2008, Rio Metro and New Mexico state officials have only set aside a fraction of the money needed for the technology.


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